The Denver Broncos locked up a playoff spot with a thrilling overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on "Monday Night Football." The Broncos are in, but their seed could range anywhere from first overall in the AFC to a wild card spot. With a win this afternoon Denver will win the AFC West and earn a bye, but to do so they must beat a Chargers team with some fight still left in them.
The Chargers are wrapping up a disappointing 4-11 season which has seen them win one road game all season long. San Diego was ravaged by injuries along its offensive line and at wide receiver, and will be headed to an offseason that could see the Chargers move to Los Angeles. They don't have much to play for but should at least be motivated to hurt their divisional rivals' playoff position.
Kansas City will take the division title if it wins and Denver loses, and the Chiefs play at the same time on Sunday so the Broncos will have to attack this final game with everything they've got.
San Diego at Denver
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Broncos -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Osweiler Playoff Ready?
After two games of poor second half performances, Brock Osweiler flipped the script last week against the Bengals with a quiet first half, but an efficient second half. Only playing half a game is a bad recipe in the playoffs and one that Denver won't be able to overcome against the better teams in the conference. Can Osweiler finally click for an entire game? It would send a message to rest of the AFC that the young quarterback is finding his stride at the perfect time.
2. Shutdown Defense
San Diego put up a good fight last weekend against the Raiders, and its offense provides just enough of a test to keep the Broncos' defense sharp. The Chargers won't be headed to the playoffs, but their quarterback would still rank near the top of the AFC playoff teams. If Osweiler's inconsistency remains in the playoffs the Broncos might have to lean on their defense more than they may like. Philip Rivers should be a good litmus test of sorrts.
3. Stay Healthy
There's nothing worse than Week 17 injuries that alter your team just before the playoffs start. While it's impossible to play safe, the Broncos will be keeping an eye on the Chiefs-Raiders scoreboard and an imminent Raiders win could be reason for the Broncos to pull and protect some of their key pieces. Perhaps if they're feeling confident, older veterans like DeMarcus Ware could see their time on the field limited.
The Broncos should be flying high after overcoming a 14-point hole to the Bengals, which puts a first-round bye in the playoffs well within their grasp. And if New England loses, the Broncos could even secure the top seed in the AFC. The most likely scenario is the Broncos win and secure the No. 2 seed, setting up a possible rematch with the Bengals in the Divisional Round. The Broncos have too much to still play for and though the Chargers might put up a good fight early, Denver should close this one out by a couple of scores.