Broncos have NFL’s toughest remaining schedule
A dropped pass by Bennie Fowler at the goal line Sunday in Tennessee landed somewhere between the Broncos sitting pretty in the AFC and the Broncos clinging to life. Denver, a team that was specifically built for another run to the Super Bowl, is suddenly in danger of not making the playoffs.
At 8-5, the Broncos hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, but only by a distant tiebreaker. The Miami Dolphins (8-5) are one game behind Denver in games against common opponents.
In their three remaining regular-season games — against New England (11-2), at Kansas City (10-3) and against Oakland (10-3) — the Broncos have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. It’s one of the most difficult final three-game stretches in league history. Denver is the first team to finish against three teams with at least 10 wins since 1978, according to NFL research.
Forget about Sunday’s game against the Patriots being a rematch of last season’s AFC championship. The Broncos are in survival mode.
“It’s always a sense of now or never,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. Sure, but, now it’s really now or never. “We’ve got to have a dog mentality, a bear mentality, you know?” T.J. Ward said. “Once you want it, you have to keep charging. You can’t sit back and sulk and feel sorry for yourselves, man. We got to pick it up.”
Here’s the simple math: 11 wins gets the Broncos in the playoffs; 10 is push-
ing it; nine and they’re most likely cooked.
Sunday’s 13-10 loss to the Titans put the Broncos in a worrisome spot.
With Denver at No. 6 in the AFC, they are a tiebreak ahead of No. 7 Miami and one game in front of Baltimore (7-6) and Tennessee (7-6). And the path to the playoffs for those teams is decidedly easier. The Dolphins’ and Ravens’ remaining schedules each include two games against teams with losing records. The Titans, who travel to Kansas City this week, finish against Jacksonville and Houston.
And the Broncos are trending in the wrong direction. They are 2-3 in their past five games. In their past three, they have just one win, against the 2-11 Jaguars.
“If the season ended today, we’re a playoff team,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “My concern right now is how we’re playing. We have to play more consistent as a football team.”
Behind Devontae Booker and Justin Forsett, the Broncos on Sunday ran for just 18 yards, their thirdlowest single-game rushing total in 57 seasons. The Titans’ run defense ranks third in the NFL, with 86.6 yards allowed per game. The Patriots are nearly as good, ranking No. 5 in the league at 90.2 yards per game.
The Broncos’ climb to the playoffs, with three daunting games in three weeks, starts against the team tied for the best record in the NFL, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
“We have a big game coming up this week against the best team in football,” Kubiak said. “They have a lot of wins under their belt. The real challenge for us right now is to play better.”