On paper, Sunday’s matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders is one of four without any playoff implications. It is one of two games between teams that have already been eliminated from postseason contention.
But NFL games aren’t played on paper, and believe it or not, there is actually a scenario in which Denver’s seemingly meaningless Week 18 game could prove crucial in the AFC Wild Card race.
We do want to reiterate that no matter what happens, the Broncos cannot make it to this year’s postseason, and Peyton Manning’s ride off into the sunset eight years ago will remain the franchise’s most recent playoff appearance for at least another season.
Here’s how the AFC West matchup between Jarrett Stidham and Aidan O’Connell could prove crucial.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans, then the winner of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans would clinch the AFC South with a 10-7 record. The loser would be 9-8, just like the Jaguars.
The Jaguars would own the tiebreaker for second place in the division regardless, as they swept the Colts and would own a better divisional record than the Texans.
So the loser of that game would be eliminated and thus excluded from all potential Wild Card tie situations, since there is no way for a third place team in a division to make the playoffs over – or be seeded higher than – a second place team in the same division.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Baltimore Ravens, they too will be 9-8. The Cincinnati Bengals could also move to 9-8 with a win over the Cleveland Browns, but the Steelers swept the Bengals, so the Bengals have no way of moving up in the AFC North, keeping them eliminated and thus excluded from all Wild Card tie situations as well.
That effectively creates a tie between the Jaguars and Steelers. Logic would suggest that the Jaguars would take the No. 7 seed over the Steelers due to their head-to-head victory. That would indeed prove true – unless the Broncos are also involved in the tie.
Should the Broncos also end up at 9-8, the head-to-head matchup between the Jaguars and Steelers would be meaningless. All three teams would possess 6-6 records within the AFC, and the tie would be broken by strength of victory. The Steelers, not the Jaguars, would win that tiebreaker for the No. 7 seed.
So while the Broncos may not be playing for anything other than pride at this point in the season, they do have a small chance to spoil the Jaguars’ – and save the Steelers’ – season with a win over the Raiders on Sunday afternoon.