A lot can happen in one season. Even when it seems like things are at their bleakest, a single win can put things in the right direction. No one knows more about that than the 2023 Denver Broncos. It seems like not long ago that the Broncos were a laughingstock, but that has changed.
With a thrilling last-minute win against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, the Broncos are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the league. What does that mean for their playoff chances and how does the schedule shake out for the rest of the season?
A Big Win on Sunday Night
If you looked back a month ago, both the Vikings and Broncos would be considered dead in the water. Following a Week 5 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Vikings sat at 1-4. The Broncos, meanwhile, were at 1-5 and everyone was writing off quarterback Russell Wilson and the Broncos as a whole.
Coming into this game, both teams were hot as could be. The Vikings ripped off five in a row despite losing quarterback Kirk Cousins for the season. The Broncos went on a three-game heater, beating the Packers, Chiefs, and Bills in the process.
These two teams played one another as closely as possible. It looked like Vikings QB Joshua Dobbs had pulled out yet another improbable win, driving his team down so that Wil Lutz could bury a 30-yard field goal for the 20-15 lead. But Wilson drove the Broncos down the field, hitting Courtland Sutton on an improbable touchdown pass. The Vikings attempted a last-minute comeback, ultimately falling short. The Broncos are now on a four-game heater, and their entire season has changed course.
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson: “Max Verstappen”🔥
Lewis Hamilton’s NFL team used his arch rival as the audible vs Minnesota Vikings… Some of them may have just gotten fired!😂
— Opinionated Fan (@OpinionatedSF19) November 20, 2023
The Rest of the Schedule
While the four-game winning streak is very exciting, it is hard not to get even more excited about the coming schedule. Things will get tough next week when the Browns and one of the best defenses in the league come to town. No one scores on them and they get to the quarterback, which could bring out the Russ of last year rather than this resurgent one.
The two biggest obstacles are both on the road. After the Browns, the Broncos head to Houston to take on the surprisingly tough Texans. Two weeks later, they head to Detroit to take on a Lions team that has proven itself to be one of the best teams in the NFC. With little room for error, the Broncos will likely need to take at least one of the three in order to stay alive in the playoff picture.
The rest of the schedule is manageable. There are a pair of games against the Chargers, who can’t seem to get out of their own way. QB Justin Herbert is as good as they come but is constantly let down by his supporting cast. A home game against the Patriots and a trip to Vegas to face the Raiders is all that remains.
It’s hard to predict this team given how things have gone. Will this team keep up the momentum or will the group that started 1-4 emerge? Realistically, they will need to finish 10-7 to have a shot at getting into the playoffs. Anything less and the focus will turn to 2024.
— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) November 20, 2023
The AFC Playoff Picture
One major event has changed the AFC playoff picture. The Cincinnati Bengals lost superstar QB Joe Burrow for the season. They are already 5-5 with little room for error. They have a 28% chance to make the playoffs and just a 0.3% chance of winning the division. It’ll be a tough battle for them to stay in the picture.
History isn’t on the side of the Broncos. Of the 0-3 teams over the last 30 years, only 4 of 158 teams have made the playoffs. That said, the Broncos have a head-to-head win over the Buffalo Bills (6-5) and could gain an edge by beating the Houston Texans (6-4, the current No. 6 seed).
The Broncos are currently the No. 10 seed in the AFC, with a 21% chance to make the playoffs. The next two weeks will be a major indicator of where they stand in the race. Beating the Browns would take their odds up to roughly 30%, depending on other outcomes. The simple fact of the matter is that the margin for error is slim to none down the stretch.
At this stage, there is a lot of football left to go. One of the toughest things about the road ahead is how crowded the AFC playoff picture is. The Broncos will need to keep pace with talented teams, a few of whom were considered Super Bowl contenders prior to the season. But as the Broncos have shown, things can change in short order.