Broncos’ path to the playoffs gets harder
November 29, 2016
First off, that was a heck of a game.
While Chiefs-Broncos didn’t end the way a lot of people around here wanted — how did that ball bounce in? — that’s the best game of the season so far.
It had great defense, special teams play, late rallies, overtime, the second-guessing of coaching decisions and a whacky finish — how did that ball bounce in?
• The playoffs: That might do it for the division title for the Broncos. You bet your bippy that there is ton of football to go including a lot of juicy division matchups in the AFC West. But the Broncos are on the wrong end of a lot of tiebreakers with, at best, 1-1 records vs. Oakland and Kansas City and then 3-3 within the division. Two out — essentially 2.5 out with tiebreakers — with five to go isn’t a good place to be.
The wild card is going to be a battle as well. The Dolphins have entered the chase at 7-4. Miami has a better schedule than Denver — at Ravens, Cardinals, at Jets, at Bills, Patriots. Baltimore and Buffalo are lu-lu games, but the Fish get the Pats in Week 17, when the Pats will likely be giving their starters the day off.
Denver has at Jaguars, at Titans, Patriots, at Chiefs, Raiders.
My bet is that Denver’s path to the playoffs may depend on the Raiders, whose defense is quite questionable, falling.
• Trevor Siemian: The kid had a great game. You cannot pin this one on him — 20-for-34 for 368 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. He threw deep balls successfully, and pulled a phenomenal touchdown pass from a very dark place with his throw to Jordan Taylor.
Yeah, he had a fumble that led to a safety, and a touchdown on the ensuing free kick, but put that on the Broncos’ special teams for a muffed punt by Jordan Norwood, and the offensive line, which had no answer for the Chiefs’ Justin Houston.
The irony of this situation is that Siemien had the best game of his young career and the Broncos still lost.
The bigger question is “Was this a breakout game for Siemian or a one-off?” We don’t know the answer yet.
• Gary Kubiak: The coach is obviously under the microscope for his decision to have Brandon McManus try a 62-yard field goal late in overtime. First, do you punt or got for three? A punt was a concession of a tie, which hurts just as much as a loss for Denver with regard to the division title.
Kubiak’s mindset is, “If he makes it we win. If he doesn’t, I rely on my defense, the strength of this team.” Come on, Broncos fans, the defense is the bread and butter, and you’ve got to like your chances against Alex Smith. You know you do.
The Broncos have been riding their defense all season. The unit played well, but couldn’t carry the team this one week. The key stat of this game was that Denver’s D did not produce a turnover this week.
This unit had produced 20 turnovers during the team’s first 10 games, an astonishing performance. It’s no dis on the defense; it’s just hard to produce an average of two turnovers per week.
The Broncos should get well down in Jacksonville, and then we wait and see how they do with a tough stretch — at Tennessee, New England and Kansas City, The Rematch at Arrowhead.
The Patriots remain the class of the AFC. Yes, they struggled against the Jets, but, as we noted in this space last week, everything gets tougher during the last month or so of the regular season, particularly with road games within the division.
By the bye, that’s why I don’t put the Raiders in this category. Oakland is 3-0 within the AFC West, but those three wins were all at home. In addition to having a questionable defense, the Raiders have to go to San Diego, K.C. and Denver during the final five weeks.
The Cowboys passed the Seahawks for the tops-in-the-NFC honors with a win over Washington, and Seattle’s stumble in Tampa. I’m a 49ers fan. I hate the Cowboys — Montana to Clark for six! — but they’re darn good.
I still think Seattle ends up as the No. 2 seed in the NFC West — home for Carolina, at Green Bay, the Rams, the Cardinals and at San Francisco. That translates to 11-4-1.
Who makes a run?
The Dolphins have run off six in a row, as have the New York Football Giants. We find out more about the G-Men as they’re at Pittsburgh this week and home for the Cowboys in their next two.
Do the Steelers find a sliver of consistency? They’re tied with the Ravens at 6-5 atop the AFC North. If Pittsburgh gets in, they’re dangerous.
How long can the Lions keep living on the edge or do the Packers figure it out and reclaim their spot?
Who wins the NFC South? Falcons, Bucs or Saints?
Someone’s going to make a run.
My lock of the week, though, is that the Browns will not lose this week.
Onto Week 13.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.