When the Broncos opened the season with a 1-5 record, many wondered whether the team had made a mistake in hiring Sean Payton. Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense were struggling while Denver’s defense was one of the worst in the league and allowed a whopping 70 points to the Dolphins.
Despite this chatter, Payton never gave up and put his best foot forward the rest of the way. As a result, the Broncos have gone 6-1 since their poor start to the season and are poised to make a late-season playoff push.
It isn’t clear whether Denver will have the firepower needed to get into the postseason. That said, the Broncos are red-hot and have a somewhat favorable schedule as they look to make that playoff push. So, it will be worth watching to see if they can pull off an improbable turnaround in Payton’s first season.
While the Broncos should be focused on the wild-card race, they can’t be ruled out in the AFC West hunt either. The Chiefs are reeling having lost four of their last six games, so the Broncos could potentially continue to gain ground if Kansas City’s offense continues to sputter.
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Here’s what to know about the Broncos’ playoff chances as they look to stay hot against the Lions in Week 15.
Broncos playoff picture
The Broncos enter Week 15 with a record of 7-6. That puts them in a six-way tie for sixth place in the AFC.
That said, the Broncos enter the week as the No. 9 seed in the conference. They are lagging in the tiebreaker categories against the Steelers, Colts and Texans, who all have better records against AFC opponents than Denver does. So, that’s why the Broncos don’t currently have an inside track to a postseason berth.
However, the Broncos do retain tiebreaker advantages over the Bills and Bengals, as Denver beat Buffalo head-to-head while it has a better record than Cincinnati in games against AFC opponents. If the Broncos can continue to build on those advantages, they may eventually be able to climb into the playoff race.
It’s also worth noting that the Broncos are only a game back of the Chiefs in the AFC West standings. Denver isn’t likely to overtake Kansas City for the division title; the Broncos have a stronger remaining schedule than the Chiefs and Kansas City owns a superior conference record to Denver (6-2 to 4-5 entering Week 15).
Despite this, Denver’s more likely path to a postseason berth will come via the AFC wild-card race. So, the Broncos will look to stay hot ahead of their Week 15 game against the Lions to stay within striking distance of the teams in front of them. A win would have them moving up in the pecking order while a loss could put them behind the 8-ball with just a few weeks left in the season.
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Broncos remaining schedule
The Broncos have a favorable schedule over the final four weeks of the 2023 regular season. Their opponents have a combined record of 22-30; that .423 strength of schedule mark ranks as the seventh-easiest league-wide, per Tankathon.
Below is a look at Denver’s schedule over the final four weeks of the season.
The Broncos may have an easier schedule, but their Week 15 game against the Lions will be a good test of their potential playoff mettle. The Lions have a great offense that matches up well with Denver’s defense, which is weaker against running backs and tight ends. Detroit can rely on David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta to help try to break down that stellar unit and make Russell Wilson have to throw a lot to beat them.
Denver will still have a chance to beat Detroit, but it won’t be easy to do so on the road. Jared Goff tends to play better at home and better indoors, so he could bounce back after a lackluster game against the Bears in Week 14.
But even if the Broncos can’t win that game, they will still have a chance to make the playoffs thanks to their remaining games against three sub-.500 teams.
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Broncos playoff chances
The Broncos have a 43.1 percent chance to make the playoffs entering Week 15, according to Sporting News’ projection model for the NFL season. That stems from their 40.7 percent chance to earn a wild-card berth and their 2.3 percent chance to win the AFC West.
If the Broncos beat the Lions, their playoff chances will rise significantly. Why? Because their remaining opponents would have a combined record of 13-26 on the season, pending the results of Week 15.
But a loss could push the Broncos further behind in the postseason race and harm their positioning among the logjam of 7-6 wild-card hopefuls. So, while this game isn’t a do-or-die one for the Broncos, it will have a big impact on their playoff chances.