Denver Broncos playoff picture: Everything hinges on next four games

USA TODAY Sports

Four Games. Never have four games been so important in determining the path the Broncos will have to take toward their 3rd super bowl title.

AFC Playoff Picture

1. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West leader) (9-0)

2. New England Patriots (AFC East leader) (7-2)

3. Indianapolis Colts (AFC South leader) (7-2)

4. Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North leader) (6-3)

Wild Card

5. Denver Broncos (Wild Card) (7-1)

6. New York Jets (Wild Card) (5-4)

Just missed: Dolphins, Titans and Chargers all tied at 4-4

The Broncos are playoff bound. No doubt about that. Whether or not this team will vie for a home playoff game and a first round bye is what will be settled when the dust clears at the end of week 13. At present, the Broncos are 7-1, 2nd in the AFC West behind the undefeated Chiefs who are 9-0. By record, the Broncos are the 2nd best team in the AFC, by playoff seeding they are 5th behind KC (9-0), NE (7-2), IND (6-2), and CIN (6-3). By NFL rules, the division winners will comprise the top 4-seeds. Each will receive at least one home playoff game, two will earn a playoff bye. The #5 and #6 seed will fall to those teams with the best records who are not division winners.

San Diego, Kansas City twice, and New England are the four games standing between the Broncos retaking their spot as the best in the AFC, or falling into playoff seeding mediocrity.

Denver Broncos upcoming schedule

10. Sun, Nov 10 - at San Diego Chargers (4-4)

11. Sun, Nov 17 - vs. Kansas City Chiefs (9-0)

12. Sun, Nov 24 - at New England Patriots (7-2)

13. Sun, Dec 1 - at Kansas City Chiefs (9-0)

There are three away games starting this week at San Diego. The last time the Broncos paid a visit to play the Chargers, the game served as springboard to an amazing 11-game winning streak. The game itself was a tale of two halves, each encapsulating the Broncos wildly inconsistent play. The first half was an ode to a mistake prone team that had managed to shoot itself in the foot all too often during their early losses. A muffed punt and pick six dug a 24-0 hole that seemed to be insurmountable. Then it happened, the offense started to make play after play, the defense started to force turnovers, and 30 minutes later, the Broncos scored a victory after totaling 35-unanswered. 35-24. That was the turning point in the season in 2012.

This year the Broncos have many answers on offense. They are scoring on a prolific pace and outside of Ryan Clady remain intact as a unit. For the defense, the questions are still looming. The past couple of weeks have provided hints that the "D" is back in Denver, it would be nice to see a dominating performance against a wildly inconsistent but dangerous foe.

This game is just the beginning of the best to come. The only homegame in this 4 game stretch occurs Sunday, November 17th. Finally, we get to see if that sterling 9-0 record is all it's cracked up to be. The unstoppable force (Bronco offense) meets the immovable object (Chiefs defense), and the first in two epic battles will play out in primetime. Manning and company are no strangers to primetime. Over the course of 24 regular season games, they have played 8 under the lights with all of America watching. Their record? 6-2. The gameplan? Simple: Win.

Back to Foxboro, for what seems like the millionth time in two years. This Pats team might be putting things together offensively after so much inconsistent and downright poor play from Brady and his inexperienced WR's. The return of the Gronk has given NE a poor man's version of the 2013 Broncos 11 personnel offense. Manning has the chance to right some of the wrong of his tortuous past, and Welker has a chance to stick it to the man that let him walk after so many great years of service.

And if all of that wasn't enough for drama and story lines. We come back the following week in December. In Arrowhead, the loudest place in the earth to play football. A place burned into the minds of Broncos fans as a tomb of misery for so many vanquished December Broncos teams. The Broncos could very well be 3-0 heading into that game with a chance to lose the divisional lead back to the Chiefs.

There are a million questions, least of which "How many games do the Broncos have to win in order to control their destiny?"

The easy answer is 4. Win them all, and head into the last quarter of the season 11-1, 4-0 in the division with the ultimate tiebreaker over KC, and a 7-1 record in the conference which would both be good enough to be tops in the AFC.

A loss to San Diego, although disheartening, is inconsequential in the long run, so long as the Broncos could earn a split later.

Win three and it all depends on which three you win. Three against the division with a loss to the Pats gives the Broncos a 10-2 record, and at worst case a tie in the division with both head to head and divisional record tie breakers in hand. 10-2 should be good enough for at least the 2nd seed, good enough to set up another epic Manning v. Brady in the postseason.

Win two against the Chiefs and one against the Pats and the Broncos would have vanquished their top threats in the AFC. A loss to San Diego, although disheartening, is inconsequential in the long run, so long as the Broncos could earn a split later.

One against each opponent with a split against the Chiefs would leave the Broncos in the same predicament they find themselves in today: hoping for a Chiefs loss at some point down the road so that tiebreakers may come into play.

The Mantra for the next four weeks will be "win em' all"

The next best mantra for the next four weeks will be "sweep the Chiefs!"

Whatever happens this next four weeks, Broncos Country is in for an entertaining ride.

Did I mention the Broncos will have to do it all without their head coach? One thing is for sure, even if the opponents records are not the indicator, this team is battle tested. From suspensions, to front office indiscretions, injury after injury, game after game facing the other teams best shot, and now a little heart surgery, the Broncos are ready to take on anything they will face on the field.

NFL beware, you have been served. The greatest offense in NFL history is ready to eat some more, and the defense is a little pissed it has been so disrespected. One game at a time until the West and the AFC is ours--once again.

GO BRONCOS!!!

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