The Denver Broncos might be in third place in the AFC West, but they're still the defending World Champions. That verbiage is something Head Coach Gary Kubiak has endeavored to stay away from, instead telling his team they're here to "chase the next one".
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1728538-doubt-his-tools-but-not-s... That's all fine and dandy, but the Broncos are the defending Super Bowl Champions.
However, 10 games into the 2016 season, the Broncos sit at 7-3 and behind the first place Kansas City Chiefs and second place Oakland Raiders. Of course, the Broncos draw each Divisional opponent twice on the schedule each year.
They've already battled San Diego twice, splitting the series. They've played Oakland once, losing in Week 9. And they've yet to face Kansas City.
What that means is that the Broncos are still absolutely in control of not only their playoff destiny, but more importantly, the Division crown. Let's take a look at what the AFC playoff picture looks like, if the season ended today.
1. New England Patriots (7-2)
The Patriots are coming off their first loss with Tom Brady back at the helm. But since Brady's return, the Patriots of dominated almost every opponent.
It truly has been a revenge tour for Brady, who's thrown 12 touchdowns to just one interception in five games played. The Patriots will continue to roll.
We all know how difficult it is to win at Foxboro in January, and how the Broncos have struggled on the road there historically. The odds of Denver going into Gillette Stadium and winning in January are slim.
But, the Patriots once again have to travel to Denver late in the year, this time in Week 15. A lot could happen between now and then for the Broncos, but that date has been circled on the calendar.
Last year, Denver's Week 12 overtime victory over New England secured them the No. 1 seed, forcing Brady and company to travel to the Mile High City for the AFC Championship game. The Broncos are 2-0 vs. New England in the AFC title game during the John Elway era.
Toughest Games: Baltimore Week 14, at Denver Week 15, at Miami Week 17
2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-2)
The Chiefs currently sit as the No. 2 seed, by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker over Oakland. As good as the Chiefs are, the Broncos have a great opportunity to wrest away control of the Division from them.
Denver is on bye this week, but they're next game will be at home vs. Kansas City, which has been flexed to Sunday Night Football (NBC). Last year, the Chiefs beat the Broncos at home on the back of Peyton Manning's unraveling, which led to the short-lived Brock Osweiler era.
This time around, the Broncos will be coming off a bye. Historically, the Broncos have done very well coming off the bye. Kansas City will get a rested and hopefully rejuvenated Broncos team in Denver in Week 12.
The two teams meet again in Week 16, which could very well decide things in the AFC West. All of Denver's Divisional games will be of the utmost importance moving forward.
Despite their resilience, it can be argued the Chiefs aren't as good as their record would indicate. They field the league's No. 28 total offense and No. 17 scoring offense.
Kansas City's defense, which has traditionally been their strength, is ranked No. 19 in total yards. But they're ranked No. 7 in scoring, relinquishing an average of just 18.7 points per game.
What has saved Kansas City's bacon has been their ability to force turnovers. They lead the NFL with 22 takeaways. Add to that Alex Smith's conservative nature, and the Chiefs sit at +14 in the turnover differential — also best in the league.
Toughest Games: at Denver Week 12, at Atlanta Week 13, Oakland Week 14, Denver Week 16
3. Houston Texans (6-3)
The Texans are currently the No. 3 seed, but as Denver fans learned a few weeks ago, their record is deceptive. Houston fields the No. 30 offense, which has been one of the most atrocious units in the NFL.
Brock Osweiler has been a disappointment statistically, but it's hard to argue with his win/loss record as a starter. If Houston is able to improve even marginally offensively, they could be dangerous down the stretch.
Houston's greatest strength has been the sub-par Division in which they compete. The next-best team are the Tennessee Titans, who sit at 5-5. Tennessee has been on a roll and have built up some serious momentum. Houston has to play Tennessee one more time this year. And although the Indianapolis Colts are 4-5, they still have Andrew Luck.
The Texans are fool's gold. I've heard them compared to the Broncos, in that they have a disjointed offense and a dominant defense.
The difference? Houston's defense is good and well-coached, but they lack the overall elite talent across the board — and depth — the Broncos boast. And Houston isn't nearly as battle-tested as Denver is.
Toughest Games: at Oakland Week 11, at Green Bay Week 13, at Indianapolis Week 14, Cincinnati Week 16
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
The Ravens are the No. 4 seed currently. Were it not for their four-game losing streak this year, the Ravens could very easily be ranked higher in Conference seeding.
But they did lose all those games consecutively. Since their Week 8 bye, however, they're undefeated. John Harbaugh's teams have a penchant for getting hot down the stretch.
Baltimore is a team built to win in December and January and it's looking like it'll be no different this year. They currently field the No. 27 total offense. With a 9:9 TD/INT ratio, Joe Flacco is having one of his worst seasons statistically.
But he is as battle-tested as they come. Like the Texans and the Broncos, Baltimore's saving grace has been their No. 1 ranked defense (total yards). They've taken the ball away 17 times and have sacked the quarterback 22 times.
The Ravens are a team no team wants to face late in the year. They're currently only one game ahead of Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati isn't far behind. This Division will likely come down to the wire.
Toughest Games: at Dallas Week 11, at New England Week 14, at Pittsburgh Week 16, at Cincinnati Week 17
5. Oakland Raiders (7-2)
The Raiders are the No. 5 seed currently — the first of two Wildcard teams. Broncos fans are now intimately familiar with how formidable Oakland is.
They spanked the Broncos on national television in Week 9, after beating them at Mile High late last season. With how well GM Reggie McKenzie has drafted, it was only a matter of time before Oakland returned to competitive prominence.
The last piece was the quarterback. Now in his third year, Derek Carr has played his team into Conference relevance and himself into the MVP conversation.
The Raiders have one of the top offensive lines in football and they're stacked at the skill positions. Their Achilles heel has been their No. 25 defense, but as we saw on November 6, they can raise their level of play when the chips are down.
On defense, Khalil Mack is Oakland's crown jewel and their unit is replete with a good balance of budding, young stars and veteran savvy. Oakland has impressed thus far, but they still have to prove themselves down the stretch, when the games really count.
The AFC West could come down to Week 17, when the Raiders have to travel to Denver. It'll be interesting to see how the season unfolds for both teams between between now and then.
Toughest Games: Houston Week 11, Carolina Week 12, at Kansas City Week 14, at Denver Week 17
6. Denver Broncos (7-3)
If the season ended today, the Broncos would be the No. 6 seed, which would mean that every playoff game would be on the road. In the old days, at six-seed spelled certain doom for an NFL franchise.
But over the last 10 years, multiple six-seeds have gone on to win the Super Bowl. The Broncos would much prefer to play from a position of strength in the tournament, with the home crowd at their back.
And they still have every opportunity to make it so. With the exception of Baltimore and Houston — whom they've already vanquished — the Broncos will play every team currently seeded higher than them in the AFC playoff picture.
They get two shots at Kansas City, another against Oakland at home, and New England at home. If the Broncos can take advantage of their Week 11 bye to not only get key guys healthy, but also fortify some of their team weaknesses, they still could not only win the Division, but also the AFC's No. 1 seed.
The Broncos hold their postseason destiny in their hands. That's exactly what they want. As disappointing as their three losses have been, it is remarkable to think that 10 games into the season, the Broncos still have control of the Division and the one-seed with an inexperienced, second-year quarterback under center.
Trevor Siemian still has a long way to go. But Gary Kubiak is coaching him hard. What Siemian lacks in physical tools, he makes up for in his intangibles. And we saw that last week in New Orleans.
Denver's biggest obstacle to success down the stretch is their offensive line. But that's where the bye could really make a difference, affording Clancy Barone's unit to get back to basics and refine the flaws in their technique and execution.
The defense will be Denver's weapon down the stretch. The Clutch Commanders know how to get it done when the chips are down and should be getting key pieces back for the stretch run, like Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe.
Toughest Games: Kansas City Week 12, New England Week 15, at Kansas City Week 16, Oakland Week 17
Outside Looking In
7. Miami Dolphins (5-4)
8. Tennessee Titans (5-5)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5)
10. Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
11. Buffalo Bills (4-5)
12. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
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