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Who Sean Payton and the Denver Broncos should root for in Week 14 in the NFL

Henry Chisholm Avatar
December 7, 2023

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ five-game winning streak ended on Sunday, but their playoff hopes remain.

At 6-6 with five more games on the way, the Broncos are on the outside looking in, but they’re only one game out of the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. Unfortunately, the tiebreakers aren’t working in their favor at the moment, so there is no scenario in which they will be sitting in playoff position by the end of Week 14.

This is what the AFC Wild Card race looks like ahead of Week 14…

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
  2. Cleveland Browns (7-5)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (7-5)
  4. Houston Texans (7-5)
  5. Denver Broncos (6-6)
  6. Cincinnati Bengals (6-6)
  7. Buffalo Bills (6-6)
  8. Los Angeles Chargers (5-7)
  9. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7)

There’s no guarantee the Broncos will own a playoff spot even if they win their final five games of the season. That will change, and the Broncos will control their playoff destiny if the Patriots, the Bengals, the Chiefs and the Jaguars or the Jets win this week.

The New York Times created a playoff simulator that estimates each team’s chances of making the postseason based on how each team has performed up to this point. The Times estimates that the Broncos will have a 38% chance of making the playoffs if they beat the Chargers on Sunday and a 10% chance if they lose.

But the rest of the results in the AFC matter for the Broncos, too.

Depending on other results across the league, the Broncos could finish with anywhere between a 29% and 54% playoff chance with a win or anywhere between 4% and 18% with a loss. Those are significant swings.

Most of the games on this week’s slate have a clear choice for the Broncos to pull for, but one is a matter of opinion.

If the Chiefs beat the Bills, the Broncos will gain a couple of playoff percentage points. The impact is much more significant if the Broncos finish 3-2 down the stretch, but it hardly matters if they finish 4-1. 

But if the Bills beat the Chiefs, the Broncos would gain ground in the race for the AFC West. If the Broncos finish 4-1 with a loss against the Lions or Patriots, they’d be very likely to take the AFC West crown if the Chiefs finish 2-2 after the Bills game with at least one loss to the Chargers or Raiders. The Times gives that 2-2 finish a 15% chance of happening.

So, if you want the Broncos to pick up a couple of playoff percentage points on the margins, cheer for the Chiefs. If you want to significantly enhance the chances of a home game in the first round at the cost of those margins, cheer for the Bills. But if the Broncos fall behind against the Chargers, you’re going to want to flip your allegiance to Kansas City on Sunday.

Here’s who the Broncos should root for in Week 14…

Tier 1

The most important game.

No. 1 – A Broncos (6-6) win at the Chargers (5-7), 2:25 p.m., CBS

This one is obvious. If the Broncos beat the Chargers on Sunday, they’d be back above .500 and could be tied for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, they would lose the tiebreaker.

Tier 2

A helpful result with no downside.

No. 2 – A Patriots (2-10) win at the Steelers (7-5), Thu., 6:15 p.m., FOX

The Pats may be the worst team in the NFL, and they won’t threaten playoff position. In fact, they could be eliminated from contention this week, even with a win.

The Steelers, on the other hand, enter Week 14 in the top AFC Wild Card spot. They’re 5-3 in AFC games, which is the likely tiebreaker if they finish with the same record as Denver. Every Steelers loss is valuable to the Broncos, and an AFC loss is even more impactful.

Tier 3

Results that would come at a cost.

No. 3 – A Jaguars (8-4) win at the Browns (7-5), 11 a.m., CBS

There’s a chance the Jags will fall apart down the stretch if Trevor Lawrence misses a few weeks with a high ankle sprain. If that’s the case, the Texans might be able to jump them in the division standings, which would benefit the Broncos since the Texans—who have the head-to-head win—would no longer be in the Wild Card Race.

But that’s a longshot, and the Browns present a much more likely opponent for Wild Card positioning. A loss in this morning game would give the Broncos a chance to tie the Browns—who the Broncos beat this season—in the Wild Card race.

No. 4 – A Bengals (6-6) win versus the Colts (7-5), 11 a.m., CBS

With the same record as the Broncos, the Bengals are a sneaky pick to compete for playoff position down the stretch, but if the Broncos make a strong push to the finish, the Bengals are unlikely to keep up. Denver probably needs a 4-1 record to get into the postseason, so the Bengals would also need a 4-1 record to be a threat. But the Broncos will probably hold onto the tiebreaker at the end of the year, so the Bengals would need to finish 5-0 with a backup quarterback to beat out a 4-1 Broncos team.

The Colts currently hold the final Wild Card position, and knocking them down is the priority in this matchup.

No. 5 – A Jets (4-8) win versus the Texans (7-5), 11 a.m., CBS

The Jets could make a run down the stretch and reenter playoff contention, but even an undefeated finish would require some help to make the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Texans sit just outside of a playoff spot. They hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos, so they’re the least likely of the 7-5 teams for the Broncos to surpass—if the Broncos finish 4-1, they’d probably need Houston to finish 2-3—but a loss to the Jets would be a good start.

Tier 4

It hardly matters.

No. 6 – A Vikings (6-6) win at the Raiders (5-7), 2:05 p.m., FOX

The Raiders are unlikely to make the playoffs, even with a 4-1 finish. But if the Raiders win this week, the go on a 2-1 run before Week 18, they’d take on the Broncos with their season still alive in the season finale. The Broncos would probably like to see a hopeless team in Week 18 instead of a team with something to play for.

No. 7 – A Dolphins (9-3) win at the Titans (4-8), Mon., 6:15 p.m., ESPN

The Broncos don’t want to tie the Dolphins. You probably remember why. Keeping them in the lead in the AFC East and out of the Wild Card race is ideal.

The Titans could be eliminated with a loss this week, and is likely to be eliminated in the near future regardles.

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