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It's still possible an 11-win Broncos team doesn't make the playoffs

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With two weeks left to play, teams like the Jaguars and Falcons are somehow still alive and the Vikings and Broncos haven't yet clinched spots.

Another seven teams joined the list of the eliminated from NFL postseason contention in Week 15, upping the total to 14 and leaving just 18 teams battling for 12 spots. Six of those 12 playoff spots are locked down, leaving just two games for the other 12 teams to jockey for position and earn one of the other six spots.

While teams like the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos will likely find their way into the postseason despite 1-2 records in December, what if they don't?

With just two weeks left, there aren't many combinations to mix up the field, but there are still some wild scenarios left that could mean the 10-4 Broncos are on the outside looking in, while the 5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars find a way into the AFC playoff field.

No, really. This is still a postseason field that can be created with ESPN's NFL Playoff Machine:


For the Jaguars and the 7-7 Atlanta Falcons, things would have to go perfectly in the last two weeks, while it would take a perfect storm of bad results to keep the Vikings out. But possibilities are just that: Possible.

Falcons get in, Vikings get bounced

No team has a worse shot at the playoffs than the Falcons even after they snapped their six-game losing streak in Week 15. Even if the Falcons managed to pull an upset victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 16, just two weeks after losing to the team 38-0, it would still likely be the end of the road for Atlanta.

In addition to beating both the Panthers and Saints to round out the season, the Falcons can only catch the Vikings if the Seattle Seahawks get dragged into a three-way tie for the two NFC Wild Card spots. A Week 12 loss to the Vikings means that just tying Minnesota isn't enough for the Falcons, but in a three-team tie it would be the Falcons and Seahawks that get into the postseason.

That means it would take six results going in Atlanta's favor to keep the Vikings out of the playoffs and keep the Falcons playing into the second week of January:

  1. Falcons beat Panthers
  2. Rams beat Seahawks
  3. Giants beat Vikings
  4. Falcons beat Saints
  5. Packers beat Vikings
  6. Cardinals beat Seahawks

Before any of the other five games happen and the Falcons can even begin to cross their fingers for a miracle, beating the Panthers would be a miracle in its own right.  The 38-0 loss was the worst blowout for the Falcons in over a decade and tied the Carolina record for the biggest win in franchise history. Beating the Panthers just 14 days later would be a Herculean feat for the Falcons.

Jaguars win the AFC South at 7-9

Only two teams have ever made the postseason with a losing record since the NFL switched to its current 12-team format. The Panthers sneaked in with a 7-8-1 record in 2014 and the Seahawks took out the Saints in 2010, despite getting into the playoffs with a 7-9 mark.

Neither the AFC South nor the NFC East have a team with eight wins yet, so it's possible that either division could have a losing record for its champion, but for the Jaguars, it's their only chance. After losing to the Falcons in Week 15, the Jaguars are somehow still alive at 7-9 and their scenario to get into the postseason requires much less wackiness than Atlanta's path.

First and foremost, the Jaguars have to earn back-to-back wins, which has been far from easy for the team. Despite a dangerous offense with Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns setting franchise records, the Jaguars have inexplicably lost to the Chargers, Titans and Falcons in the last four weeks to back themselves into a corner. But if Jacksonville can earn back-to-back wins, it needs only two results to go its way:

  1. Titans beat Texans
  2. Jaguars beat Saints
  3. Titans beat Colts
  4. Jaguars beat Texans

Relying on the Titans to beat the Texans and Colts looks a little more bleak after Marcus Mariota suffered a knee sprain in a Week 15 loss. But Houston and Indianapolis have plenty of quarterback troubles of their own. If Brian Hoyer isn't ready to return in Week 16, the Texans will rely on Brandon Weeden to beat the Titans and if he can't, the Jaguars could enter Week 17 with a very real chance at hosting their first playoff game in 16 years.

The 10-win Broncos don't go to the playoffs

The wackiest thing about scenarios that result in the Broncos not going to the postseason is just how realistic and possible they are. Even earning an 11th win doesn't guarantee that Denver gets in, although it certainly would help.

But first the Broncos have the tall task of getting by the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 16, and if they can't, Denver may be facing the pressure of a must-win game in Week 17 to get in. Beating the San Diego Chargers in Week 17 would likely be enough to ensure the Broncos get a spot in the playoffs, but winning streaks for the Steelers, Jets and Chiefs mean Denver's feet are to the flames after back-to-back losses.

The Broncos are in a tiebreaker nightmare after losing to the Steelers in Week 15 and dropping a game to the Chiefs in Week 10. If Denver loses each of its last two games, the Steelers, Chiefs and Jets would need only one win each to bounce the Broncos.

Kansas City and Pittsburgh finish the season with some easy matchups, but the Jets could have some trouble with the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills in the last two weeks. The only way the Broncos can guarantee a spot in the playoffs is to win their final two games and remove the possibility of ties.

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