If a matchup of two of the AFC’s three best teams wasn’t enough to get you interested in Monday’s Week 16 finale, don’t worry. There’s much more at stake.
Not only are the Bengals (11-3) and Broncos (10-4) playing for the all-important No. 2 seed in the AFC, but pretty much every other playoff-hopeful team in the conference has something riding on the outcome as well. Behold:
Yes, in addition to the great implications for Cincinnati and Denver, the Texans, Colts, Chiefs and Jets could all see their situations change dramatically based on Monday’s outcome.
A Bengals win would eliminate the Colts and hand the AFC South to the Texans. If Indianapolis beats Tennessee and Houston loses to Jacksonville in Week 17, the Colts and Texans would both be 8-8 with identical records in the division, the conference and in common games. The next tiebreaker on the list is "strength of victory." Houston beat Cincinnati earlier this season and the Colts beat Denver, meaning a Bengals win over the Broncos would be enough to clinch that tiebreaker for the Texans. A Denver win would sway that tiebreaker to the Colts, should it become necessary.
A Bengals win would also plummet the Broncos — who still have not clinched a playoff berth — all the way down to the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Denver would be 10-5, equal with AFC West foe Kansas City, which would have the tiebreaker nod on the strength of a better division record, meaning the Chiefs would take over first in the AFC West and move into the No. 3 seed. The New York Jets are also 10-5 and have a better conference record than the Broncos, so they would slide up to No. 5.
That would also mean that if the Steelers win in Week 17 and the Broncos lose to San Diego, the Steelers would oust Denver from the playoffs entirely. Pittsburgh beat Denver in Week 15.
If Denver wins on Monday, things are a little less crazy. The Broncos jump up to the No. 2 slot in the AFC and clinch a playoff berth. The Bengals drop to No. 3. The AFC South race remains undecided. The Chiefs and Jets remain at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively.