And you might have heard Denver can clinch a playoff spot Sunday with a win against the division rival Chiefs
And you might have heard ex-Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton is now quarterback of those aforementioned Chiefs.
And you might have heard the Broncos are coming off back-to-back losses – the first of the Tim Tebow 2011 era.
Look, the players know what’s at stake, and unless you’ve intentionally avoided any football news the past week, you know what’s on the line as well. The Broncos were mistake prone and sloppy against a superior Patriots team, and instead of rebounding the following week against the demoralized Bills, Denver looked listless and uninspired. The Broncos offense is now committing turnovers – something we saw very little of during “The Streak” and the ultimate momentum killer. The defense, notably the secondary, has given up huge yardage plays thanks to blown coverage, poor assignments, and even worse tackling. Even special teams, the one constant this season, looked out of sorts against Buffalo.
Suffice it to say, if the Broncos a) advance to the playoffs, and if so b) aren’t satisfied with “just getting there,” these problems must be corrected. Otherwise, I’m spending next week writing stories on the similarities between the 2008 and 2011 seasons, and that’s something I’m not especially looking forward to.
Even though I still disagree with the firing of head coach Todd Haley earlier this month, the Chiefs have seemingly rallied around interim coach Romeo Crennel, whose own tenure as head coach wasn’t particularly accomplished. Kansas City still owns the title of being the only team to defeat Green Bay this season (though I suspect the Lions will join them Sunday), and put up a gallant effort against a Raiders team fighting for a playoff berth. Orton has played his usual pedestrian role as quarterback for the Chiefs, nothing lights out, but a certain upgrade from Tyler Palko.
I’ve given Orton credit all season long – actually dating back to training camp – for his handling of all the scrutiny and attention that comes with competing and beating Tim Tebow for the starting quarterback job. It’s a situation only he truly understands, and instead of being all sour grapes about it, Orton took the high road – publicly. From the trading block to starting quarterback to benched starting quarterback to the waiver wire: it’s not exactly a dream season, but it could have a dream ending for Orton.
Aside from the hyped revenge or scorn factor, Orton’s intimate knowledge of the Broncos is a true concern. His intel is just the ammunition the defensive-minded Crennel needs to foil the Broncos’ plans. After his Broncos demotion, Orton played scout-team quarterback in practice, running the opponent’s offense against Denver’s first-team defense. As Champ Bailey told The Denver Post:
“It’s more scripted for him (in that role), but what he sees from us is what we do on Sunday. I think he has more of an edge on that than anybody, and for us to say we’ve got an edge on anything he did on scout team is silly.
“From what he saw, he knows what we do.”
That’s all true, but Orton’s redemption road runs both ways. No team has as thorough an understanding of what gets Orton into trouble as the Broncos. The onus is on Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to consistently pressure Orton and switch things up from time to time. If Orton burns the Broncos defense early, and he knows the secondary is ailing with safety Brian Dawkins likely out Sunday, will Allen make the necessary adjustments immediately or hold out. Sadly, we’ve seen more of the latter as of late.
If there’s one thing Orton has yet to prove, it’s that he can win a game solely with passing. From Chicago, to here in Denver, to his one win with Kansas City, Orton’s victories have mainly been the product of strong all-around team play. If Kansas City can find rushing success against the Broncos, and make one or two plays on defense and/or special teams than Denver may be in trouble. Come Sunday both teams will likely be focused on making the other’s quarterback do the winning, and in this respect, it is truly an intriguing matchup with Denver’s season on the line.
The Battle for the AFC West – It’s still possible the AFC West can send two teams to the playoffs, but only if Denver wins the division. The Broncos cannot earn a wild-card spot, whereas Oakland remains in wild-card contention. Kansas City and San Diego are eliminated, but can each play spoiler…something we’d like to see from the Chargers and not as much from the Chiefs.
Broncos clinch division with:
- Win Sunday
- Tie AND Oakland loss or tie
- Oakland loss
The Raiders can advance to the playoffs as a wild-card team or AFC West champions.
Raiders clinch AFC West with:
- Win AND Broncos loss or tie
- Tie AND Broncos loss
Raiders earn wild-card spot with:
- Win AND Bengals loss AND Titans loss or tie
- Win AND Bengals loss AND Jets win
Plotline That Could Be Crucial or Insignificant – None. It’s Week 17. A Denver win means the Broncos host a home playoff game next weekend. A loss could very well end the season. Everything matters.
Final Score: Denver 20, Kansas City 16
And for good measure…