When the Denver Broncos knocked off the previously undefeated New England Patriots on November 29th, they opened the flood gates. The Patriots would go on to lose again this past Sunday to Philadelphia, putting their record at 10-2.
The Broncos currently sit at 10-2 and hold the tiebreaker over New England. But there's another player in this equation. The Cincinnati Bengals are also 10-2, essentially making it a three-way tie for the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed.
Of course, if the season were over today, there are tiebreakers. The Bengals would be the one-seed, with Denver the two. But there's still a month left to play and the Broncos have a very important game upcoming.
Every game at this stage is of the utmost importance, if the Broncos want a first round bye in the playoffs and total homefield advantage. They can't afford to slip to the Oakland Raiders, whom they host this coming Sunday. Then they have road game vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, which won't be a cake walk.
But the big game to circle on the schedule is the Broncos Week 16 throwdown with Cincinnati. Last year, the Bengals brutalized the Broncos, picking off Peyton Manning four times and running roughshod over the Broncos defense.
If the Broncos defeat the Bengals, they have a very good shot at the No. 1 seed, which would mean that the road to Super Bowl 50 would go through Denver. That's a very big if.
The Bengals have arguably the deepest roster in the conference, although I would submit that Denver's is just as talented (if not moreso) and just as deep. But Cincinnati has a couple of tough games upcoming.
Here are the Bengals last four opponents of the regular season.
Cincinnati has a tough divisional matchup with Pittsburgh up next, plus a San Francisco team playing at a higher level of late. But there's no doubt that the marquee matchup comes on Monday Nigh Football, December 28th.
As for the Patriots, their schedule plays out thusly.
On the surface, New England's last four look easy, but divisional road games are tough to predict. The Houston Texans are playing much better football and their defense is one of the top units in the NFL.
The Broncos can't worry about things they can't control. What they can control is their own destiny. A professional football team heading down the stretch can ask for nothing more.
The Broncos have a championship-caliber defense, a productive rushing attack and an offensive line gelling at the right time. The only X-factor is the quarterback situation.
If they can keep their focus in the moment, and not look beyond their next opponent, I like their chances of entering Week 16 at 12-2. If both Cincinnati and Denver enter that week at 12-2, it'll be a phenomenal game to watch, with a playoff-like atmosphere.
Win out, and the Broncos guarantee themselves a first round bye in the playoffs and homefield advantage throughout. Where does Peyton Manning factor into this equation? That's a topic for another day.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.