The Denver Broncos are the 2013 AFC West division champions after beating the Houston Texans in Week 16, with a little help from the Indianapolis Colts beating the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver also clinched a first-round bye after Sunday's games - they will be, at worst, the #2 seed in the AFC.
But the difference between a #1 seed and #2 seed is significant when you consider the road the lower seed would potentially mean - a playoff game in Foxboro, where the Broncos lost in overtime just one month ago, and where both Peyton Manning and the Broncos have struggled whenever facing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home.
Broncos defeat Texans 37-13 and clinch AFC West
21 unanswered 4th quarter points helped Peyton Manning and company break the NFL passing TD record and thump the Houston Texans 37-13 in Week 16.
So, entering Week 17, the regular season finale, the Broncos have to win one last game to clinch the top seed, and home field advantage throughout they playoffs. They know from all too recent history that home field advantage does little to guarantee postseason success, but the prospect of facing the Patriots on the road instead of at home is still a heavy factor that gives them something to play for in the season's final week.
So should they play Peyton Manning against the Raiders?
Are the Broncos good enough with Brock Osweiler at the helm to beat the Oakland Raiders? Is the difference between Seeds One and Two so great that benching Peyton Manning doesn't merit consideration?
I'm interested to hear your thoughts. From my point of view, the value of a potential home game against the Patriots vs. a game on the road is too great to put in the hands of Osweiler. I want to see Peyton Manning next week - and I want the gameplan to be, "Get an early lead, and play Brock Osweiler at halftime."
But I couldn't fault the Broncos for deciding to bench Peyton. He was hit five times last Sunday, and the Raiders will surely be trying to hit him some more. Let us know your thoughts in the poll.
AFC Playoff Standings
(Z) - Clinched first-round bye (Y) - Clinched division (X) - Clinched playoff berth
No. 1 - (Z) Denver 12-3
No. 2 - (Y) New England 11-4
No. 3 - (Y) Cincinnati 10-5
No. 4 - (Y) Indianapolis 10-5
No. 5 - (X) Kansas City 11-4
No. 6 - Miami 8-7
In the hunt: Baltimore 8-7, San Diego 8-7, Pittsburgh 7-8
The Chiefs are locked into the 5th seed, but everything else in the AFC playoff picture is up for grabs. The Broncos could lose the #1 seed to the Patriots; New England could drop all the way down to the fourth seed with a loss; the sixth seed still has four contenders in play.
Gotta love a playoff picture that is still being painted in Week 17.