So you wanted the Denver Broncos to play high-stakes games in December, eh? The Denver Broncos have not yet made the playoffs. They're still not quite in the AFC playoff picture as of today, but Sunday's matchup against the Houston Texans is about as close to a playoff game as you're going to get before the actual playoffs start. It's not an elimination game, but the implications for the Broncos are massive.
As a matter of fact, there might not be another NFL team under more pressure to win an individual game this weekend than the Denver Broncos.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Broncos' playoff chances go from a whopping 64 percent with a win on Sunday to 21 percent with a loss. And there are a variety of different reasons and factors playing into that. Let's first talk about what the Broncos themselves can control.
Part of the reason the odds so dramatically change for the Broncos with a win or a loss is very simple: AFC record. The Broncos currently have a 3-4 record against AFC opponents. They have beaten three AFC teams on this five-game winning streak, but among their six wins this season, three have come against NFC opponents (Bears, Vikings, Packers). Those wins help the overall cause, of course, but as you get into the nitty gritty of playoff seeding, you need those conference wins in order to differentiate yourself.
Now, the Broncos have gotten some really key victories in recent weeks. Beating Kansas City was massive for many reasons, but in terms of playoff seeding, no wins loom larger right now than their road win in Buffalo and last week's win against Cleveland. Those are two teams they are vying for playoff positioning with, and having a head-to-head win in your back pocket is crucial. That's why beating the Texans this weekend is so significant.
If the Denver Broncos lose to the Texans, they obviously drop to 6-6 on the season. That doesn't mean the season is over, by any means, but it would drop the Broncos to 3-5 against AFC teams, and they would have lost a head-to-head against the Texans, who would improve to 7-5 and essentially have a 1.5 game lead over Denver in the Wild Card standings.
As you can see by the difference of 64 percent odds with a win and 21 percent odds with a loss, a win for the Denver Broncos against Houston sets them up with something they haven't really had all season: Margin for error.
Getting a win against Houston could propel the Broncos from out of the playoff picture completely all the way up to the 6th spot in the AFC, depending on what else happens over the weekend. Yes, we want to see teams like the Steelers, Bills, Browns, and Colts lose, but the Broncos need to take care of business against the Texans now so that it doesn't become a reason they get left out of the playoffs later.
The Broncos have already made up so much ground, and while winning a 6th game in a row is a tall order, it's absolutely necessary right now for the Broncos to have a legitimate shot at pulling off NFL history.