Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Broncos may get into the playoffs with 9-7 record


The dirty little secret the bosses don't want the players to know -- and they're too dumb to figure it out on their own -- is: In all probability, in the real world, the Denver Broncos will make the playoffs without winning either of their last two games.

Furthermore, the Broncos will be better off in the postseason if they lose to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night. But don't tell the players. Nevertheless, under no circumstances must Clinton Portis play this weekend. The Broncos can Michael Jackson moonwalk into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

The other filthy piece of information realized by only a few football intellectuals is that if everything falls into place as it should, the Broncos will open the playoffs on Jan. 3 or 4 in Kansas City.

The Chiefs' Worst Nightmare and the Broncos' Best Dream.

Even before the Broncos take the field Sunday evening and after the afternoon's games, they will have an unambiguous understanding of their standing.

To explain:

New England (12-2) and Kansas City (12-2) have clinched their division titles. Indianapolis (11-3) has clinched a playoff berth and is leading Tennessee in the AFC South. Cincinnati and Baltimore are tied in the AFC North at 8-6.

The wild-card possibilities are Tennessee, Denver, Miami and the runner-up in the AFC North.

The two division champions with fewer victories will be the hosts of the first weekend's games against the two wild-card teams. The other division champions receive byes.

The Patriots play in New Jersey against the Jets on Saturday and close with Buffalo at home. A split and New England gets a first-round bye.

The Colts have Denver and finish at Houston. Two more victories and Indianapolis, by virtue of the tiebreaker, gets a first-round pass if Kansas City splits its games at Minnesota on Saturday and at home against Chicago.

Then, the Chiefs, as the No. 3 seed with a 13-3 mark, would play the No. 6 seed (lowest wild card) at Arrowhead Stadium in the first round of the playoffs.

The AFC North champion -- with a 10-6, 9-7 or even 8-8 record -- would play at home against the No. 5 seed, likely Tennessee. (A wild-card team cannot play at home even if it has a superior record to the division champion.)

Keeping up? If not, reread the previous six paragraphs. We'll wait for you before moving on.

OK. If Cincinnati wins the North and the Broncos, the Ravens and the Dolphins have the same record, the Broncos are the No. 6 seed by virtue of a better conference record. If Cincinnati wins and the Broncos and the Ravens tie, the Ravens get the wild-card berth because of a victory over the Broncos. If Cincinnati wins and the Broncos and the Dolphins tie, the Broncos are in the playoffs because of a better conference record. If Baltimore wins the North and Cincinnati and the Broncos tie, the Broncos are in because they beat the Bengals in the season opener.

Here are the meaningful games (to the Broncos) on Saturday and Sunday: New England at Jets, Kansas City at Minnesota, Baltimore at Cleveland, Cincinnati at St. Louis, Miami at Buffalo and Tennessee at Houston.

Here are the meaningful games the final weekend of the regular season: Buffalo at New England, Cleveland at Cincinnati, Indianapolis at Houston, Chicago at Kansas City, New York Jets at Miami, Tampa Bay at Tennessee, Pittsburgh at Baltimore and, of course, Denver at Green Bay.

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