Wild-Card Race Update: With a win over Niners Sunday (and a little help), Broncos’ playoff chances could nearly double

August 19, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; General view of the line of scrimmage between the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium. The Broncos defeated the 49ers 33-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the Broncos’ miraculous 24-17 defeat of the Steelers, the state has been abuzz with talk of the playoffs.

Regular-season-ending injuries to both Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders – each one of the most valuable Broncos on their side of the ball – have quieted some of that talk, but the Broncos’ hopes remain very much alive.

For the Broncos to make the playoffs, they’ll need a few things to happen. Assuming they win out – which almost certainly has to happen – the Broncos need either the current six-seeded Ravens or the AFC North-leading Steelers to lose two of their next four games. Then they’ll need both the Colts and Dolphins to drop at least one more game.

This is an attainable scenario, as the Ravens and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson have road games against the Chiefs and Chargers left on their docket, as well as home matchups with the rival Browns and sneaky Bucs – who have already upset the Saints, Eagles and Panthers this season. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives the Ravens just a 10% chance to beat both the Chiefs and Chargers.

It seems unlikely that Jackson can win at least three of those games. The rookie out of Louisville currently ranks as the 37th highest-graded quarterback out of the 50 that have taken at least 10 percent of their team’s dropbacks – that trails players like Chase DanielNick Mullens, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. It gets even worse when his passing grade ends up under the microscope. His poor grade of 52.7 is 39th, behind the same guys, and with the additions of Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler.

In truth, it’s highly likely that rookie drops his first game this weekend against the juggernaut Chiefs.

Next up, are the Steelers, who also have a strong likelihood of dropping at least two of their next four games. Down the stretch, the Steelers have two relative cake-walks against the Raiders and Bengals, but also have incredibly tough matchups against the Patriots and Saints.

It’s certainly possible that either the Ravens or Steelers goes 3-1 down the stretch, but it’s incredibly unlikely that both will.

As for the Colts and Dolphins, those situations could be resolved in the Broncos’ favor this weekend. The Dolphins, who are 2-4 over their last six games, with wins over the Bills and Jets, will play host to the Patriots this Sunday and FiveThirtyEight gives them a mere 28% chance at winning. Even if they do win, their odds of winning out are just 1.6%.

The Colts are certainly a much better team than Miami, but their home stretch isn’t much easier. The Andrew-Luck-led unit will have to travel to Houston this week to play the red-hot Texans before hosting the (currently) playoff-bound Cowboys the week after. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 32% chance to win this week, but just a 3.9% chance of winning out.

If the Broncos beat the 49ers this week, the Colts lose to Houston, Miami loses to New England, and the Ravens lose at Kansas City, the Broncos with move to within a single game of the sixth and final playoff seed, and their playoff odds will nearly double; leaping from 21% to 36%.

For the Broncos themselves, scoreboard-watching isn’t an option; they need to win each and every game that’s left on their schedule, starting with the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Kickoff is set for Sunday at 2:05 MST.

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