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AFC Playoff Picture: Implications of Broncos’ victory

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One of the best games of the NFL season Monday night ended just before midnight with the Denver Broncos beating the Cincinnati Bengals to clinch a playoff berth. That wasn't only AFC postseason ramification to emerge from an overtime classic featuring more on the line than any other 2015 matchup.

Here is all the fallout you need to know from the game:

1. With the victory, the Broncos avoided free-falling out of the playoffs and kept control of the AFC West. They now can clinch the division and a playoff bye next week with a home victory over the four-win Chargers.

We wouldn't quite hand the Broncos the division just yet. San Diego has played better the last two weeks and Denver did slip up recently in a home loss to Oakland. But Broncos fans have to feel a lot better than they did when they were trailing 14-0 to the Bengals on Monday night.

2. The Bengals missed a golden opportunity to make the Divisional Round after failing to build on a two-touchdown lead. Cincinnati no longer has a chance to win the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That's especially damaging because Andy Dalton is not expected to be ready to play on Wild Card Weekend. AJ McCarron would wind up winning a playoff game before Dalton. 

The Bengals could still win a playoff bye, however, if they beat the Ravens next week and the Broncos slip up against San Diego. If nothing else, perhaps missing the bye gives Marvin Lewis a better chance to end his playoff drought. 

3. The Chiefs narrowly missed jumping into first place in the AFC West because of the Broncos' loss. They remain in the No. 5 slot and could still take the division if they win and the Broncos lose. Kansas City's home game against the Raiders starts at the same time as Broncos-Chargers, so the Chiefs need to play to win. 

4. The Colts remain alive! Part One of their 10-part dream to win the AFC South came to fruition with the Broncos' win. Unfortunately, Indianapolis might have to start Stephen Morris at quarterback against Tennessee in the season finale.

Castrol EDGE Clutch Performers:

5. The Texans, meanwhile, presumably will play to win next week with the division not technically clinched yet. It's a weird situation. The Colts had roughly a 3,300-to-1 chance to win the division before Monday night's game. The Broncos' win increases that slightly, but it's a bizarre situation for Houston. The Texans have essentially made the playoffs without actually making the playoffs. 

6. The Broncos clinching a playoff spot eliminated one potential path for the Steelers to get into the wild card. Now it's simple: Pittsburgh needs to beat Cleveland, and hope Rex Ryan exacts revenge in a win over the New York Jets

The Jets-Bills matchup is the most interesting on the AFC slate in Week 17 despite all the injuries for the Bills. Rex Ryan has a track record of emotional finales, and it would be ironic if the Jets were on the wrong end of things this time around. Buffalo's banged-up roster and lackluster recent play makes an upset unlikely. But this is the NFL. It's far more likely than the Ravens beating the Steelers. And this same Jets team trailed Kellen Moore and the Cowboys in the fourth quarter just a week ago. 

7. The Patriots will earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win in Miami next week. Losing that game early in the day would open the door for the Broncos to earn home-field advantage in the afternoon.

Got all that? If you need any help dissecting the NFC, take a look here.

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