clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 6-5 Broncos face a bumpy road to the playoffs

Are the Denver Broncos ready for the showdown in Kansas City?

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos
Can Bridgewater lead a playoff run?
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The NFL season is an exercise in overreacting to small samples in hopes of predicting the final result. Thanks to the truly egregious impact football has on the human body, no roster makes it’s way through the 17 game schedule completely intact. Add in outside factors such as the adjustments teams make for players gutting through pain, suspensions, the simple flu, and now Covid-19, and every game becomes it’s own entity.

With six games to go in the 2021 season, we’ve reached a point where the week to week variance of an any given Sunday league could determine the final narrative of this Broncos’ campaign. At 6-5, these Broncos find themselves locked into what’s essentially a dead heat for the seventh and final spot in the AFC playoffs. With five games against conference contenders remaining, Vic Fangio’s heads to Kansas City with a hobbled Teddy Bridgewater to face the Chiefs.

It appears obvious a roster led by Andy Reid and quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes will have the upper hand. Denver hasn’t celebrated a victory over the Chiefs since the No Fly Zone beat up on Alex Smith while Peyton Manning threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns. In what is now clearly Mahomes’ AFC West, the 26-year-old owns a 17-3 record against the AFC West and has never tasted defeat at the hands of the Broncos.

Should the Broncos emerge victorious, there’s no question it’d be the landmark victory of Fangio’s career in Denver. It would also assure the Broncos second place in the AFC West at the end of week 13. Unfortunately, the playoffs don’t start at the beginning of week 14.

Following the primetime game in Kansas City, the Broncos host the Detroit Lions. It’s the perfect opportunity for the loveable losers to finally stumble into victory because of an opponent’s mistakes. If a banged up Bridgewater or Drew Lock fail to keep the offense on track, Detroit’s only Tom McMahon blunder and a turnover from an upset. While Jared Goff’s wandering down his road towards becoming a career journeyman, the Lions have the personnel to stress the Broncos’ injury depleted front seven.

In week 15 the Broncos will host the Cincinnati Bengals, who only just beat the brakes off the Pittsburgh Steelers. Joe Mixon’s combination of physicality, hands, and vision make him a threat to expose any holes in the Broncos’ front with the way Cincy leans on outside zone, while the defense is stout enough up front to force Pat Shurmur into a pass happy plan of attack. The Bengals aren’t the most ferocious opponent ahead, but they have the right personnel to match up in Denver.

After back to back games at home, the Broncos hit the road for revenge against the Las Vegas Raiders, who just celebrated Thanksgiving with an overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The last time Denver faced the Raiders, Derek Carr was surgical as the Raiders built a 17-7 first half lead. The Broncos’ offense turned into a pass happy affair, so Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue had ample opportunities to batter Bridgewater into a three pick performance, the last of which came on an errant throw to Tim Patrick that iced the 34-24 loss.

The Broncos rematch with the Chargers in L.A. follows their trip to Vegas. Barring horrific injury luck, L.A. will still have Joey Bosa, Justin Herbert, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Rashawn Slater, and Derwin James. There’s a decent chance they’ll regain Matt Feiler, their starting left guard who missed yesterday’s game. In his absence backup Senio Kelemete struggled all day, which played a noteworthy role in slowing down the passing attack. One should hope Bradley Chubb’s close to full go by week 17 which should help against Storm Norton, but it’s no guarantee.

The Broncos regular season will come to a close with a rematch against the Chiefs. It’s on them to ensure the playoffs are still in play. To make the dance will almost surely require 10 or more wins on the AFC side, which means a single loss across the final slate could sink the season. One untimely injury or breakthrough Covid case, a dubious flag, or fumble luck and the Broncos find themselves with their fifth straight losing season. Should things go awry, we’ll remember this roster for the role it served as the bridge between the end of Fangio’s run as head coach and the beginning of the Paton era. At the same time, there’s a legitimate chance this Broncos’ season goes down as the best in half a decade.