The Broncos’ playoff hopes are suddenly in doubt. Sunday’s wacky loss to the Chiefs dropped Denver to seventh in the AFC — just behind Kansas City and Miami for the conference’s two Wild Card spots.
It’s not as if the Broncos are floundering. They’re 7-4 following a tough three-game stretch against the Raiders (loss), Saints (win) and Chiefs (loss). So why are they on the outside looking in on the AFC playoff picture?
A lot of it has to do with how tough their division is this year. The Raiders are out in front in the AFC West with a 9-2 record. They’ve got the inside track to earn a first-round bye. The Chiefs are just behind them at 8-3. Then it’s the Broncos in third and the Chargers (5-6) in last.
Here’s FiveThirtyEight on the difficulty of the division:
“With an average Elo of 1578, the 2016 AFC West is on pace to be the NFL’s 10th-best division since the league merged with the AFL before the 1970 season.”
The Broncos are 1-3 against divisional foes this year. They split the series against the Chargers. They’ve still got one game against the Chiefs on Christmas and one against the Raiders on New Year’s Day. How they fare in those games could go a long way in determining if they get into the playoffs.
The games are also important because in the event that two teams vying for a Wild Card spot have the same record, the tiebreaker is which team has the better divisional record. That’s why, if the season ended today, the 7-4 Dolphins, who are 2-1 in the AFC East, would go to the playoffs instead of the Broncos, who, again, are 1-3 in their own division.
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