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How Broncos measure up vs. playoff challengers Chargers, Ravens, Colts

KUSA – They came out of the NFL’s toughest schedule not in great shape, but as survivors with hope.

The Broncos are 5-6 after playing the toughest group of opponents in terms of collective winning percentage (.579) through week 12. A 5-6 mark is hardly great – the New York Jets weren’t all that strong an opponent, yet they trampled the Broncos seven weeks ago.

However, back-to-back, down-to-the-end upset wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers allowed the Broncos to climb out of the rubble and see some light ahead.

Thanks to NFL parity, the 5-6 Broncos are only one game out from the No. 6 and final AFC wild-card spot. And with a nod to the merciful schedule makers, the Broncos now have the among the weakest set of opponents for the final five weeks.

San Francisco and Oakland are both 2-9, although the Broncos must play them both on the road. Cincinnati is 5-6, but 1-5 in their last six games and they just lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a season-ending thumb injury. The Cleveland Browns are 4-6-1.

That’s a collective 13-30-1 record (.302) among the Broncos next four opponents heading into their final game against the 8-3 Chargers at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

“Yeah, there’s still a chance, and I’m going to reiterate what I said last week: We’re going to run the table,’’ Shelby Harris, the Broncos’ latest hero, told 9NEWS’ Rod Mackey after Harris’ end-zone snag of a Ben Roethlisberger pass preserved Denver’s win Sunday. “And I’ve been saying that because I have faith in the guys in our locker room. And I know things didn’t go our way in the first half of the season, but maybe that was a good thing. Maybe that built that toughness that we needed, you know?

“So, everything happens for a reason, and so it’s a blessing that we have the toughest schedule in the league. But you know what? We’re a tough team, so we can handle it.”

The Broncos may be three games behind the Chargers, but crazy as it may seem, tiebreaker scenarios and a difficult remaining schedule for Philip Rivers’ team may make it easier for Denver to catch Los Angeles than the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts.

The following is a breakdown of the AFC final two wild-card spots as viewed from the Broncos’ perspective. The AFC’s other 5-6 teams — Miami, Tennessee and Cincinnati – are ignored because unlike the Broncos, those three are skidding.

It’s not about them, anyway, it’s about the Broncos winning their next four to set up a final-game showdown with the Chargers.

A look at the Broncos’ playoff scenario and their primary opponents:

CHARGERS (8-3)

Winnable games: Bengals

Losable games: At Steelers; at Chiefs

Tossups: Ravens; at Broncos

Projected record: 10-5 going into their season finale in Denver.

Tiebreaker with Broncos: Broncos. If both teams finish tied at 10-6, the Broncos would have beat the Chargers head-to-head twice.

RAVENS (6-5)

Winnable games: Bucs; Browns

Losable games: At Chiefs

Tossups: At Falcons; at Chargers

Projected record: 9-7

Tiebreaker with Broncos: All Ravens. Baltimore beat Broncos head to head and are 6-3 in AFC while the Broncos are 3-5 against AFC opponents.

COLTS (6-5)

Winnable games: At Jaguars; Giants

Losable games: None

Tossups: At Texans; Cowboys; at Titans

Projected record: 9-7

Tiebreaker with Broncos: Colts as they have 5-4 record in AFC while the Broncos are 3-5.

BRONCOS (5-6)

Winnable games: At 49ers; at Raiders

Losable games: None

Tossups: at Bengals; Browns; Chargers

Projected record: 9-6 going into season finale against the Chargers in Denver

Tiebreakers with Ravens, Colts, Chargers: That loss to the lowly New York Jets could doom the Broncos in their tiebreaker scenarios with the Ravens and Colts.

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