CAN BRONCOS’ SIEMIAN MATCH CHIEFS’ SMITH?
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.