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Which borderline team has the easiest path to the NFL playoffs?

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The schedule gods have cleared a path for several .500-ish teams to make the postseason.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Broncos accepted the gift of awful turnovers from the Steelers. With one big win, Case Keenum may have cleared the runway for Denver’s first playoff berth since winning Super Bowl 50.

Week 12’s 24-17 win over Pittsburgh pushed the club up to 5-6 on the season, but victories over the Steelers, Chargers, and Seahawks are proof of how dangerous this team can be. But the most convincing case for a Denver postseason appearance isn’t where they’ve been so far, but where the club’s about to go; the Broncos have one of the league’s easiest schedules over the final five weeks of the season.

Keenum and his teammates will have to face a shoplifter’s row of opponents to finish off their 2018. Here’s how their December looks:

The only winning team remaining on the Denver schedule is the Chargers, who

a) have already lost to the Broncos at home, and
b) may already have sealed their postseason fate before Week 17, leading them to rest Philip Rivers and several other starters.

That makes John Elway’s club an attractive bet to play into January. But the Broncos aren’t the only team hovering around .500 whose low-wattage schedule could clear the path for a surprising playoff bid. Here are the five borderline postseason teams most likely to make a run over the next few weeks, ranked from easiest remaining schedule to hardest:

1. Denver Broncos

See above. Vance Joseph has the Denver defense living up to its potential, and the Broncos’ ability to create chaos and dew the rewards of clutch turnovers took no fewer than 17 points off the board against the Steelers.

2. Washington

Washington doesn’t have a true starting quarterback after losing Alex Smith to a bold reboot of Joe Theismann’s 1985 leg injury. The club also doesn’t have a team with a winning record currently on the remainder of its schedule. That’s pretty amazing when you consider four of those games come against 2017 playoff teams, one is against a team one fourth quarter collapse against the Patriots away from the Super Bowl, and two come against the reigning NFL champions.

Those are five winnable games for a team with Smith behind center. With Colt McCoy? It’ll depend on whether the Washington defense can find an extra gear this December.

3. Seattle Seahawks

What was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Seattle has developed into one of Russell Wilson’s finest performances. Flanked by Chris Carson and an effective running game for the first time since 2014, the veteran quarterback has been masterful for the Seahawks this fall, recording a 25:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio while leading his team to wins over other borderline contenders like the Cowboys, Packers, and Panthers. And even when he’s lost, he’s kept his team close; Seattle’s five defeats this fall have come by an average of five points per game.

The Seahawks close out their schedule with a difficult game against the Chiefs, but that game will also be Patrick Mahomes’ first game in the hostile environment of CenturyLink Field. The Vikings will be a difficult test as well. And then the rest of the slate gives way to games that will be started by either C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens, or Josh Rosen at quarterback.

4. Indianapolis Colts

  • at Jacksonville Jaguars
  • at Houston Texans
  • vs. Dallas Cowboys
  • vs. New York Giants
  • at Tennessee Titans

Andrew Luck has bounced back after sitting out the 2017 season with a shoulder injury. He’s got a great opportunity to lead Indianapolis back to the postseason, assuming Frank Reich doesn’t get him obliterated as a high-risk, low-reward wide receiver this winter. The Colts have climbed over .500 despite a 1-5 start thanks to a five-game winning streak that’s put Chris Ballard’s rebuilding project ahead of schedule.

Two games against division leaders (Houston, Dallas) remain. So does a game against a Titans team capable of annihilating the Patriots one week and getting trashed by Luck the next. So will 2018 mark Luck’s return to the postseason, or will it be a return to his 8-8 destinies of 2015 and 2016?

5. Miami Dolphins

  • vs. Buffalo Bills
  • vs. New England Patriots
  • at Minnesota Vikings
  • vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
  • at Buffalo Bills

The Dolphins have spun out after a 3-0 start, but they’ll have several opportunities to sneak into the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoffs thanks to a soft descent through Weeks 13-17. The Bills are tough to gauge, but are still a team with five losses of 19 points or more in 2018. Beating the Vikings in Minnesota will be tough, but hey, the Bills did it. And the Patriots have won the AFC East in 14 of the last 15 years, but they’re also 1-4 in their last five games in Miami.

Ryan Tannehill is back in the lineup, and that upgrade (?) at quarterback along with an easy back end of the schedule could pave the way for the team’s second playoff berth since 2008. Of course, since they have to play Buffalo twice, expect something weird to derail Miami.

Honorable mention: Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson, should he remain starter, will get three sub-.500 teams to cap off his 2018. But one is a Falcons team led by an MVP-caliber Matt Ryan and his Week 17 opponent will be an improved Browns team that won’t stop playing hard even if they’re ending their season with a meaningful game. Slot those in around brutal road trips to Kansas City and Los Angeles and you’ve got a rough road to the postseason for 6-5 Baltimore.