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AFC Playoff Picture: Denver's doomsday scenario

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The Denver Broncos could still win home-field advantage for the 2015 playoffs. Or they could miss the playoffs entirely. The second doomsday scenario is easier to imagine.

Denver's Week 16 Monday night game against the Bengals has loomed as a monster AFC game all season, and now it feels more important than ever. The Bengals would desperately love to win the game, clinch a bye and give Andy Dalton an extra week to get healthy. The Broncos could go from hosting a Divisional Round matchup to watching the tournament from home.

While it's unlikely, Denver could end up in the cold. If the Broncos lose Monday night, and the Jets, Steelers and Chiefs all won out, the Broncos would lose a tiebreaker for the final wild-card spot at 11-5. That's true even assuming the Broncos take care of business in Week 17 with a win over the Chargers.

The Broncos should strangely root for the Patriots Sunday against the Jets. While Denver is still mathematically alive for the No. 1 seed, the team could use more margin for error in the wild-card race. It's crazy that the Broncos should even be worried about the wild card when they were four games up on the Chiefs in the division not so long ago. Kansas City, however, has made up almost all that ground.

The Chiefs are statistically less likely to miss the playoffs than Denver because they have all the tiebreaks if they win out, and their schedule is favorable: home games against the Browns and Raiders. If the Broncos slip up once and the Chiefs win out, Kansas City will be your AFC West champions.

Denver fans shouldn't freak out too much about all this doom and gloom. They are still very likely to make the playoffs, and they control their chances for the bye. Just win this week, and they don't worry about scenarios.

The Jets, meanwhile, have to worry.

Each week, we'll examine the playoff picture. You can see the full playoff picture standings here, and use our playoff predictor to play out scenarios to your heart's content with our playoff predictor here.

Tough road for Jets


The Jets won on Saturday night, but Week 15 did not help them. Pittsburgh erased a 27-10 deficit against Denver, and now the Steelers have two much easier games on tap. The Chiefs won their final road game of the year in Baltimore Sunday. The Jets only have a 22 percent chance to make the playoffs according to the New York Times because they lack tiebreak help and their finishing schedule is difficult. The Jets have to beat the 12-2 Patriots, then win in Buffalo, and then hope for help. The Broncos possibly falling into the wild-card mix would be a bonus for Todd Bowles' crew because the Jets would have a tiebreak over Denver. But the Jets need an upset of the Patriots and an upset loss by one of the other wild-card contenders.

If nothing else, the Jets are catching the Patriots at the right time. Joey Iosefa was New England's leading rusher in Week 15. Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung and Danny Amendola were the latest Patriots starters to get hurt. The playoff bye can't get here soon enough for the Patriots, who still need one more victory to clinch the No. 1 seed.

Pittsburgh finishes the season at Baltimore and at Cleveland. The Johnny Manziel-led Browns are the better candidate to pull off an upset and help the Jets. Manziel could play a big role in this AFC playoff race. They head to Kansas City this week.

Bengals can clinch bye in Week 16


A win over Denver on Monday night wraps up a bye for the Bengals. If Cincinnati loses the game, they could have to wait until Week 17 to clinch the AFC North over Pittsburgh. The Bengals will only have to win over the Ravens at home in Week 17 to clinch the No. 3 seed at worst. But there is a huge difference between getting a playoff bye and having to host a team like the Steelers or even Broncos in the Wild Card round.

About that AFC South


I always leave the AFC South for the end, and wouldn't blame readers if they tune out during this unsavory portion of the program. Wily veteran Brandon Weeden and the Texans took charge of the division with their win over the Colts on Sunday, although things aren't quite over yet. Both the Jaguars and the Colts will be rooting for Tennessee to pull off an upset over Houston this week. We have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be in that game. Brian Hoyer versus Zach Mettenberger looks bad for the Titans. Brandon Weeden versus Marcus Mariota looks bad for the Texans.

The 5-9 Jaguars need to win out, have the Colts lose one game and hope the Texans lose out. Crazier things have happened. The Colts need to win out, and hope the Texans lose out. In short: The Texans are fairly safe bets to host a playoff game this season. That's one reason why we're in favor of re-seeding.

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