After never receiving less than a 74% chance of making the playoffs, FiveThirtyEight’s statistical analysis hammered the Denver Broncos this week basically giving them a 50-50 shot at even making it into the playoffs over the next five weeks.
How did Denver get into this predicament? For one thing, the team’s quality of play has slipped ever so slightly compared with last season. At this stage of the 2015 season, Denver ranked fourth in the NFL with a 1661 Elo rating, and our model assigned them a 10 percent probability of winning the Super Bowl. This year, despite competing with fewer great teams, the Broncos rank fifth with a 1606 Elo and a 4 percent Super Bowl probability. If they instead sported that 1661 rating from last season, this year’s Broncos would be second in the NFL, nipping at the New England Patriots’ heels for the right to be No. 1.
Why the slipping odds? It comes down to the AFC West.
Since the NFL merger, only nine teams have accumulated a higher average ELO than this years’ AFC West. That’s incredible.
Despite the increasingly long odds, there are those around the NFL who have not yet lost much faith in the Broncos ability to storm back to win the West outright.
"I think it's Denver until proven otherwise," a coach from another team said. "A lot rides on [Trevor] Siemian and how much he can open up their offense. [Gary] Kubiak likes to run and play-action pass. Siemian had three touchdowns [against the Chiefs], and two were longer. That supports their case."
Despite the offense, success with this teams is derived from its defense. Everyone, even the Broncos themselves, understands that.
"I still think Denver because their defense can get cranked up to be dominant," this coach said. "Six sacks [on Sunday], four by their stars, [Von] Miller and [DeMarcus] Ware. They just have a bunch of unique players defensively. And the next time they play Oakland, it's at home."
As for 538’s numbers, there have been just twelve teams since the merger with ELO ratings as high as the Broncos right now that have missed the playoffs. I like those odds.