Broncos in control of their own destiny in playoff picture

Reality Check:

The Denver Broncos are not going to win the Super Bowl. You know that and I know that.

Still, a playoff berth would stand out quite nicely on Josh McDaniels’ resume in his first year as a head coach and be a much-preferred step up the National Football League ladder compared to recent regular-season meltdowns.

Although it may be a bit difficult to shake the d&233;jà vu feelings of last season when Denver dropped its final three to tumble out of the playoff picture — including an ugly homefield loss to a terrible Buffalo team — the Broncos are very much in control of their own destiny and a team with a much different mindset than last year’s.

Despite offensive struggles and a tendency to give the ball away in crucial situations, this year’s squad is not likely to back down and cower back toward the bench after being whipped physically — something we saw all too often in the winter months over the last several years.

McDaniels’ squad stands 8-5, with 9-7 seemingly a virtual certainty,  10-6 the most likely final record and 11-5 a remote possibility if the Philadelphia Eagles cooperate. Denver’s schedule the rest of the way is by far the easiest of any of the wild-card contenders, all of whom trail the Broncos by at least one game.

The Broncos go against 4-9 Oakland at home today, have a road contest at 9-4 Philly, then the home finale against 3-10 Kansas City.

The four AFC teams one game behind Denver at 7-6 are Miami, the Jets, Jacksonville and Baltimore. Still remote possibilities are three teams at 6-7: slumping Pittsburgh, rapidly rising Tennessee and Houston.

Of those teams, the one team that would appear to have a schedule edge would be Baltimore, which plays Chicago, at Pittsburgh and at Oakland. The Ravens will finish 9-7, quite possibly 10-6.

Of the other 7-6 teams, Jacksonville has dates with Indy and New England, Miami faces Tennessee, Houston and Pittsburgh, and the Jets have games against Atlanta, Indy and Cincinnati. If any of that threesome wins more than two games, they would indeed deserve a playoff bid.

I’m thinking Denver finishes 10-6 and earns the top wild-card seed, thus earning a playoff berth on the road against … New England.

Cincinnati, 9-4, is two games in front of Baltimore in the AFC North and currently the third AFC seed behind Indy and San Diego. The Bengals will win two more games going against San Diego, Kansas City and the Jets, putting them at 11-5.

New England, 8-5, is a game in front of Miami and the Jets in the AFC East and has a relatively easy schedule with Buffalo, Jacksonville and Houston remaining. The Pats will win two of those and hold on to win the East at 10-6.

The first-round playoff games in the AFC, given this incredible infusion of logic, will have Baltimore going against Cincinnati and the Broncos at the Pats.

Of course, first things come first — meaning the Raiders.

This one comes gift-wrapped. The Raiders come to town with Charley Frye their starting quarterback after Bruce Gradkowski was injured last week in a 34-13 loss at Washington. The Raiders had been rolling under Gradkowski, winning two of their past four, with one of those an impressive victory over the Steelers.

He went down last week, however, to not one, but two injured knees.

And the Raiders have lost so much confidence in former starter JaMarcus Russell that they promoted Frye from third-string to first. The last time we saw Frye, he was helping the Cleveland Browns become one of the worst teams in the league.

Another big factor in this one will be the health of Raider tight end Zach Miller, the main target of both Russell and Gradkowski. He suffered a concussion last week and is listed as questionable. He had not practiced through Thursday.

The Raiders don’t run the ball much, but do throw to backs often. Darren McFadden has been a favorite target of late and will likely continue to be today given the Raiders lack of consistency on the outside at the wide receiver spots.

Today’s task for Denver will be to play well against the run, which they should do, and move the football with perhaps someone other than Brandon Marshall — he of an NFL record 21 catches last week in the loss to Indy. The Raiders will stick Nnamdi Asomgha, the best cover corner in the game now, on Marshall and Kyle Orton may have to look elsewhere for someone who isn’t covered.

The Broncos will win this one; they have to.

I’ll take my 9-4 record picking with or against the Broncos and say the 10 1/2-point favorites win it, but not by a huge margin. Let’s make it Denver 21, Oakland 13.


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