The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala Nicki Jhab­vala: njhab­vala@den­ver­ or @Nick­iJhab­vala

Gary Ku­biak didn’t need a spread­sheet or a lengthy list of all the “what ifs.” Less than 24 hours re­moved from a trou­bling loss to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots on Sun­day, the Bron­cos’ coach emerged from a team meet­ing with a clear mes­sage and a sim­ple plan.

“The only sce­nario I know is that if we don’t win, we get no chance. I know that sce­nario,” he said. “We have to go to Kansas City and play well. They’re a re­ally good team. It’s Christmas week (with) a lot of things go­ing on. I have to get this team fo­cused and ready to go. We have some guys that played a lot of foot­ball that are beat up, and I have to get them to Sun­day night and ready to go.”

At 8-6 and in third place in the AFC West, the Bron­cos’ hope of se­cur­ing a sixth con­sec­u­tive di­vi­sional ti­tle has been squashed. They sit in ninth place in the AFC play­off pic­ture with only two games re­main­ing: a meet­ing with the 10-4 Chiefs at Kansas City on Christmas night, and a game against the 11-3 Raiders in Den­ver on New Year’s Day.

In a di­vi­sion and con­fer­ence stacked with play­off-cal­iber teams, the Bron­cos’ odds of re­turn­ing to the play­offs are long but not lost. Ku­biak’s sim­ple plan to win out af­fords them their best chance. But that alone won’t se­cure them a spot in the post­sea­son. Frankly, it’s com­pli­cated. The messi­est route in­cludes the Bron­cos split­ting their fi­nal two games to fin­ish 9-7 and get the No. 6 wild card spot in the AFC. Help would be needed from mul­ti­ple teams, but it would be of value only if Miami loses both of its fi­nal games: at Buf­falo on Satur­day and at home against the Pa­tri­ots on New Year’s.

If Miami wins out, the Bron­cos have no chance, not even if Den­ver wins its fi­nal two games.

If Miami de­feats the Bills on Satur­day, the Bron­cos’ odds grow even longer and their only pos­si­ble route to the play­offs is to fin­ish 10-6 to earn the No. 6 seed. But that, too, will re­quire ad­di­tional help:

• The Bal­ti­more Ravens would have to lose to the Pittsburgh Steel­ers.

• Kansas City would have to beat the Charg­ers in San Diego in Week 17.

• And the Pa­tri­ots would have to de­feat the Dol­phins in Miami on New Year’s.

The Pa­tri­ots clinched their eighth AFC East ti­tle and earned a first-round bye with their vic­tory over the Bron­cos last week­end. Now, should Miami win its penul­ti­mate game, New Eng­land has the power to en­sure Den­ver doesn’t even make it to the post­sea­son.

Which leaves Bron­cos fans’ with a not-so-short wish list for the hol­i­days: two Den­ver vic­to­ries, at least one Miami loss, a Steel­ers vic­tory over the Ravens and, if Miami wins Satur­day, a Pa­tri­ots vic­tory over Miami in their reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale.

The reign­ing Su­per Bowl champs weaved a tan­gled web.

“We have to win out,” said re­ceiver Em­manuel San­ders. “We have to win out.”

And even that might not be enough.

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