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2011 NFL Playoffs: Can the Denver Broncos Realistically Get In?

The Broncos are far from clinching an AFC West title. With four games to play, they currently hold the lead over the other three teams in the division, but not one team has been eliminated yet. Also consider that every team in the division has been in first place at some point this season. It’s way too soon to think trends will continue and to be crowning their ass.

That being said, the Broncos schedule has two good things going for it: it’s their easiest four-game stretch to date based on opponent record, and three of the four games are at home.

Now, there are a ton of variables to consider with four weeks to go, so we’re going to restrict this to one overarching scenario: what happens if the Broncos and Raiders finish with the same record.

That means we’re not going to consider wild card scenarios at this point — it’s just too early to get it all documented in a way that makes sense. Just know that the Broncos are in a four-way tie at 7-5 against AFC teams outside the West for the sixth seed… there are a number of chances for them to make the playoffs in some fashion this season.

(Note: these results were calculated using ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine.)

If the Broncos win four games the Broncos are in. It doesn’t matter how many games the Raiders win. Division champions. Done deal.

If the Broncos and Raiders each win three games things get a little interesting. Of note:

  • The Chiefs and Chargers would still be eliminated, as the best they can do is finish 9-7, and the Broncos and Raiders would finish 10-6.
  • The Broncos would win the division in 14 of 16 win-loss scenarios:

[Check out a full graph of potential outcomes here]

If the Broncos and Raiders each win two out of four games things get extremely tricky. The division is mostly fair game, especially if the Chargers or Chiefs finish 4-0. There are too many variables to break it down in any sort of elegant visual fashion, but there is one item of note: the Chiefs would win the division if they tie with anyone at 9-7.

Based on both of those tiebreaker scenarios, clearly the biggest must-win game on the Broncos’ schedule is Week 17 against the Chiefs. In any tiebreaker scenario, a win against the Chiefs virtually guarantees them the division title. A loss cuts their chances in half.


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