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Denver Broncos have 54% chance of making playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight

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The Denver Broncos are on the ropes, but around this time last season they were on the ropes too. It’s not over until its over.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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.

RANK YEAR DIVISION TEAMS AVG. ELO
1 2013 NFC West 4 1624
2 2007 AFC South 4 1608
3 1984 AFC West 5 1600
4 2004 AFC East 4 1590
5 2014 NFC West 4 1588
6 1976 AFC Central 4 1583
7 1975 AFC Central 4 1581
8 1970 NFC Central 4 1581
9 2008 NFC East 4 1581
10 2016 AFC West 4 1578

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.