Note: This article was originally published after Week 11 but has been updated with new calculations as of the end of the Sunday games in Weeks 12 and 13.
DENVER – The NFL's hottest team entering Week 13 cooled off Sunday as the Broncos lost to the Houston Texans, 22-17. With the loss, their playoff hopes took a hit, too.
At 6-6, though, there's still a chance at the postseason – something that felt impossible earlier in the season. Only four out of 158 teams (2.5%) to start 0-3 in the last three decades have done it.
The Broncos, however, do indeed sit on the bubble of the AFC playoff picture. After 13 weeks, the Broncos remain the No. 9 seed in their conference after failing to capitalize on the opportunity to jump Houston in the standings.
The Cleveland Browns hold the 7th and final playoff seed, with the Texans currently in the No. 8 spot on the outside looking in.
According to this handy NFL playoff simulator by The New York Times, the Broncos’ odds to make the playoffs dipped to 23% after the Sunday outcomes. A win in Houston would have pushed their chances to greater than 50%, according to the tool, which simulates tens of thousands of outcomes to arrive at its projected odds.
All hope is not lost, though. If the Broncos gets to 10 wins, the odds are favorable that they make the playoffs – with a catch. Before we get into the weeds, let's take a look at the rest of the season to see how difficult the quest for 10 wins will be.
The Broncos’ remaining schedule, with opponent records as of the end of Week 13, at a glance:
- Week 14: @ Chargers (5-7)
- Week 15: @ Lions (9-3)
- Week 16: vs. Patriots (2-9)
- Week 17: vs. Chargers (5-7)
- Week 18: @ Raiders (5-7)
Because NFL tiebreaker rules when it comes to playoff seeding consider in-conference record, Denver will want its wins to come against the AFC opponents left on the schedule. If they're going to lose one, they'll want it to be in Week 15 against the Lions on Denver7.
Here's a high-level look at the scenarios and the corresponding likelihood of a playoff berth, as of the end of Week 13:
- Broncos win out, finish 11-6: 99% chance to make the playoffs
- Broncos finish 10-7 with loss to Detroit: 80% chance of making the playoffs
- Broncos finish 10-7 with loss against Chargers: 66% chance of making the playoffs
- Broncos finish 10-7 with loss against Patriots: 65% chance of making the playoffs
- Broncos finish 10-7 with loss against Raiders: 69% chance of making the playoffs
- Broncos finish 9-8: Less than 20% chance of making the playoffs
On paper, it isn't particularly difficult to find four wins in those five contests, given the Patriots' dreadful season and the Broncos' middling AFC West foes in the Chargers and Raiders.
However, the Broncos have lost three of the last five to the Chargers and haven’t beaten the Raiders in the seven contests since they moved to Las Vegas.
That, along with the tiebreaker rules, are why Sunday's loss in Houston was such a significant missed opportunities.
One final note for Broncos fans trying to will their team to the postseason: Strength of schedule is also part of the tiebreaker rules. So, as hard as it may be, you'll want to root for all of Denver's remaining opponents to win their games not against the Broncos. That will give the Broncos the best shot if it comes down to breaking a tie between Denver and another team with the same record in the end.