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AFC Playoff Preview: Who Can Beat The Broncos, And How Would They Do It?

Philip Rivers Tom Brady

The NFL playoffs are here. I would like to preview them. I hope you read these predictions, and discuss them with me. Let’s start with the AFC, because “A” comes before “N,” even after “C.”

What do the odds say?

Via 5dimes.eu, here are the odds for each team to win the AFC and make it to Super Bowl XLVIII in New York Jersey.

Denver Broncos: -145
New England Patriots: +350
Cincinnati Bengals: +750
Indianapolis Colts: +1375
Kansas City Chiefs: +1500
San Diego Chargers: +1800

… but what about in terms of percentages?

(Here are the implied percentages, heavily approximated, because I was struggling to do the exact math, even though I used to be good at math. This is what blogging does to your brain. They all are definitely no more than a few percentage points off, at most.)

Denver Broncos: 56%
New England Patriots: 19%
Cincinnati Bengals: 10%
Indianapolis Colts: 6%
Kansas City Chiefs: 5.5%
San Diego Chargers: 5%

Home-field advantage is huge. Someone will have to beat Denver, in Denver. As you can see, the chances are reasonable, but pretty low. Denver has only lost three games at home with Peyton Manning under center. Once, early last year, to Houston (when they were good), then in the playoffs to Baltimore, then a few weeks ago vs. San Diego. They have been dominant at home, mostly.

But are the odds accurate?

People like to say dumb things like “VEGAS IS UNDEFEATED” when games occasionally end precisely on point spreads, but that’s an incredibly misguided statement. For one, “Vegas” isn’t the only place setting odds. Respected offshore books like Pinnacle are the market leaders. Not Vegas. And oddsmakers aren’t trying to guess scores, they’re trying to make money. The betting market is… a market. It moves based on money, perception, varying interests… lots of things. The prices reflect what the market is saying. It’s not perfect.

While I am no expert, I am not clueless. I made money (HYPOTHETICALLY, IF I WOULD DO SUCH A HORRIBLE THING) betting on football this season. It happened. And because the few long-term winning NFL bettors would never disclose their fancy mathematical models publicly, checking out a random dude’s preview is about the best you can do. While I’m no expert; I’m confident I’m more of an expert than the uninformed people that call themselves experts.

The Broncos will play the Chargers, Colts or Chiefs in the second round. Then, the Patriots, Bengals, Chargers, Colts or Chiefs.

The Broncos will be clear favorites over every single team. There is no question about that. My semi-educated, knee-jerk guesses would be:

Patriots vs. Broncos -5.5
Bengals vs. Broncos -6.5/7
Chiefs vs. Broncos -8
Colts vs. Broncos -8.5
Chargers vs. Broncos -9.5

Those are just guesses, but they shouldn’t be too far off. (I think.) And I think they’re pretty fair. I’ll be fairly surprised if anyone beats the Broncos. I can tell you that there’s no chance I’d bet on Andy Dalton on the road, in Denver.

Still, it’s dangerous to say things like “I don’t think Denver will lose,” because anything can happen. This is the NFL. You’re playing the odds. What would it take to beat Denver?

Here are the teams that have kept up with Denver, or have come sorta close.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles lost to the Broncos 52-20. So… why am I mentioning them? They moved the ball well. They averaged 6.5 yards per play. The Broncos averaged 6.6. The issue was that the Broncos were 5-for-5 in the red zone. The Eagles were 2-for-5. And the Broncos got a Trindon Holliday return TD, and a blocked punt for a TD. The Eagles didn’t play well enough to win, but they showed how it could be done. (By having a really dynamic offense. None of these teams move the ball as well as the Eagles do.)

Dallas Cowboys: You know the story. Cowboys lose, 51-48, keep up all game, lose on a Tony Romo INT. The Cowboys put up 9.7 yards per play(!), and ran the ball just 14 times. Both Philly and Dallas had tons of success through the air, but Dallas threw more, and did better.

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts beat the Broncos. It was at home… but still. Impressive. They had surprising success pressuring Manning, and despite being outgained, they won due to the pressure, which helped them win the turnover battle, 3-1. On offense, they actually didn’t have as much success as you’d think. 5.6 yards per passing attempt and 213 yards is not very good.

San Diego Chargers: As I’ve pointed out numerous times in my betting column, the Chargers are first in the NFL in time of possession, and they seem to have shown the best recipe to beating the Broncos: Keep Peyton Manning off the field. The Chargers have sat in dead-last in defensive DVOA in the NFL for much of the season, but they mask their struggles by keeping that unit off the field. Philip Rivers was good in both games vs. the Broncos (a win and a loss), but in the win, it was the 44 clock-eating rushing carries that were the game-defining stat.

It seems the recipe includes one or more of these tasty ingredients:

Time of possession.
Pressure on Peyton.
Romo-esque gunslinging.

The Broncos haven’t really faced an elite pass defense, so maybe the Bengals can buck the trend and stop them. The stats show that the Broncos rack up points at home vs. anyone, but if any team has a shot of stopping them there, it’s the Bengals. Still, I don’t trust them. GINGER QB ON THE ROAD. The one thing they really have working for them is their ginger-zone offense, where they score a TD on a ridiculous 73.91% of appearances (2nd in the NFL). That’s absurd, though slightly less-absurd than the Broncos’ 76.12% mark, especially when you realize that Denver makes more red-zone appearances per game than any other team, too (4.2, as opposed to the Bengals 22nd-ranked mark of 2.9).

This is what is so tough about the Broncos. They are efficient and explosive. They are first in offensive DVOA. They are first in offensive yards per play. They are second in third-down conversion rate. They are first in red-zone offense, as I just told you. They are so damn good on offense I can’t take it, and they’re better at home.

And if you’re wondering about their defense, it’s not that bad, though Von Miller’s absence is worrisome. They’re 16th in yards per play allowed, and 15th in defensive DVOA. The secondary is weak, but passable, given their awesomeness on offense.

The only real worry is the whole “Peyton is bad in the cold thing,” and while this study doesn’t really prove that Peyton is good in the cold, it does suggest that this narrative probably didn’t have reason to exist in the first place.

I think it’s pretty clear that San Diego is the worst matchup for Denver. But, they’re also probably the worst team in the playoffs, because of their 32nd-ranked defense in DVOA. I don’t think any team has a great shot at an upset, but I think the Chargers, if their defense weirdly comes to play like they did in their win vs. the Broncos, have the best shot. If that makes sense. But I don’t think that will happen. I don’t know how it did the first time.

Which just leaves the Bengals and Pats as the best shots, and I really don’t think they have a great shot on the road.


If I’m being honest, I don’t like any bets in the AFC. All of my futures bets to win the Super Bowl are from the NFC (Philly at 90/1, Seattle at 12/1, Packers at 25/1), and I like the NFC infinitely better than I do the AFC. I don’t think any of the futures odds show value. If I had to pick, I would take the Broncos at -145, though there’s no evidence that would be a better option than betting on their moneyline in the first game and rolling over your winnings. It would depend on upsets.

The only bets I could consider are Broncos -145, or betting the Chargers moneyline vs. the Bengals (which I don’t really like), then rolling over your winnings vs. the Broncos.


Sorry for the lack of balls. I have them; they’re just hard to see. Here are my predictions, which are mainly just dart-throws, if I’m being honest.

Bengals over Chargers.
Chiefs over Colts.
Bengals over Patriots.
Broncos over Chiefs.
Broncos over Bengals.

Boom. Give your own predictions and/or bets below, or hit me up on Twitter. I would love to hear from you, friend.

  • Anonymous

    As a Pats fan, aside from them winning it all, I’d rather they exit quickly rather than prolong the inevitable. Too many horses in the barn for anything of substance to happen. I’m not really seeing the Chargers marching into the Bengals’ stadium and winning that one.

  • Ted Tidwell

    Chiefs over Colts
    Bengals over Chargers
    Broncos over Chiefs
    Patriots over Bengals
    Broncos over Patriots

    Heard something interesting regarding the Patriots on the radio…prior to the Divisional playoff game Jan 14, 2006 against Denver, Tom Brady was 10-0 in the playoffs, winning 3/4 of the previous Superbowls, since then Brady is 7-7 in the playoffs and 0-2 in Superbowls.

  • Anonymous

    Surprised you think that. Like I said, I don’t think they’ll beat Denver, but since they got home-field advantage, they’ll just have to win one game as favorites, and then pull the upset in Denver. Not easy by any means, but anything can happen in one game.

  • Anonymous

    Good stuff. And with Gronk out and the defense banged up… it looks like the trend will probably continue…

  • Ted Tidwell

    I get that Brady has 3 rings, but if you look at his record in the playoffs over the past 8 years you can say a lot of the same things about him as you can about Manning. You nailed the blue print in beating Denver. Make them go three and out, keep the clock running, capitalizing on QB pressures with timely turnovers.

  • DJ ILLusive

    no way Chargers beat the Bengals at Cincy. Bengals are unbeaten at home and already beat SD on their home turf by running the ball down their throats and giving them a taste of their own medicine with time of possession advantage. I think its going to be a Broncos-Bengals AFC Championship. Broncos will prevail, but they’ll win by less than 7 pts.

  • tkell31

    It would be some trick if Denver played SD in the Championship round of the playoffs. Also picking the Chiefs to win two games on the road against much better teams is ridiculous. I suppose it could happen, but considering in the last two months the only teams they’ve beaten are the Raiders and the Redskins my guess is they get blown off the field. Old rule of thumb, but never bet on cold teams going into the playoffs. Take away Charles and how exactly do they do anything?

    Colts 38-10 over the Chiefs
    Bengals 28-24 over SD
    SF 31-24 over GB
    Eagles 34-17 over NOs.

  • tkell31

    Oh, and my favorite bet for the playoffs is rolling over the winnings on SF in round 1 to take them on the money line the next two weeks. They are the only WC team that could make a run at the SB so worth a shot.

  • MCM

    Ummmm, EVERY time the Pats have played the Manning Broncos the BEAT them. Denver and Manning CANNOT beat New England. In addition, Manning is 4-10 against Brady. Brady, while clearly the superior QB, will only have his hands full with Seattle in the Super Bowl

  • MCM

    Denver and Manning have YET to beat New England. They are 0-2 and Manning is 4-10. Denver and Manning will NOT get by New England. Pats to just too good. Stats don;t lie

  • Anonymous

    Ha, the saying is stats DO lie, man. Especially when they’re statistics that hold no predictive weight, like wins, in a 2-game sample size.

    The Pats are definitely not “just too good.” That being said, sure, the Pats could beat them. However, it will be an upset if it happens.

  • Anonymous

    Definitely. Brady is great, but I don’t buy the whole “he’s clutch; Manning’s a choker” thing. If Manning chokes this year, then, well, I’d have to re-think that.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not confident at all that the Chargers win. Pretty much just guessing there. Bengals definitely deserve to be favored.

    But I think the Bengals would get killed in Denver. Just my opinion, though.

  • Anonymous

    Damn, you really like the Colts, don’tcha. I’m not a big fan, but they’ve proven me wrong before. But “take away Charles” is kinda a ridiculous thing to say, since he’s been as good as anyone in the league this year, at any position.

    Thanks for the predictions!

  • Anonymous

    Definitely agree that they’re by far the best bet of the Wild Card teams. And this sounds like it might be worth it… I’ll have an NFC preview up soon and will definitely look into this.

  • Anonymous

    Lol they played twice. Both times in New England. Once came in OT. The other was in Manning’s 5th game, with an inferior team.

  • Nathaniel James Gardiner

    numbers never lie, manning in the playoffs = CHOKE hes 9-11 with 4 straight 1 and dones… and the way he was throwing the ball in New England in the cold windy weather, its not looking to good for him in the playoffs, also there defense is last in every category and the loss of there best d lineman , idk we shall see what happens

  • Anonymous

    We shall see, indeed.

  • ActualDeadhead

    The Chiefs over the Pats at Gillette? That’s funny.

  • Equizzle

    Colts over Chiefs,
    Bengals over Chargers.
    Pats over Bengals (No way Pats lose at home with 2 weeks to prep IMO)
    Broncos over Bengals
    Pats over Broncos (Controversial I know, but even with the injuries there is a kind of grim determination with the Pats this year that reminds me of the Superbowl teams)

  • Equizzle

    * I meant ti say Broncos over Colts for the divisional round*

  • Anonymous

    Sure, no one wants Andy Dalton going on the road to Denver. He probably would be decimated by Manning in a skills competition, film study, making a commercial or playing Trivial Pursuit. But Manning doesn’t play against him. He’s got to get by the Bengals defense, which is fairly decent. And Denver/Manning has been vulnerable to even mediocre defenses. And the Patriots are feast or famine. (Mostly famine lately.)

  • Anonymous

    Brady’s luck has been slowly running out. Manning’ s luck has to eventually improve, and beat Brady.

  • Anonymous

    Agree with your last line. But dang man, what’s with the Patriots in those last two SB losses?

  • J Lim

    “Grow a bigger pair.”

    The reason why you beat writers stay employed for a year or two and are forgotten is because you read other articles and don’t actually watch games and discuss facts. Tired of it. Get another job, you’ll never retire writing crap like this. Chargers have a coaching staff thrt most teams would kill for. Allen could be rookie of the year. Don’t forget DJ Fluker.
    Watch them. See the desire. The heart. Watch a game. Do some real analysis.

  • J Lim

    Oh and Dalton, wipe that dumb smile off your face. Only a douche grins like an idiot being up only 3 at the half.

  • Melissa Gelina

    Who did this prediction? Bengals over anyone? Ha! Hope whoever predicted that didn’t actually wager any money! 27-10 loss to the SD Chargers! Can we have some real predictions…….Like Broncos vs Patriots, P. Manning finally beats T. Brady?

  • Anonymous

    There’s a byline at the top of the article… it was me! And as I wrote, I didn’t bet on it! So, no money lost. But none won, either, sadly. I will be sure to not make fake predictions this week.

  • djeboi

    lol hey guess what, the chargers beat the bengals in cincy, and they beat them good.

  • Brett Greshko

    The team that will beat Denver in Denver in the playoffs will be the only team who has already done it this season…. the San Diego Chargers.

  • Brett Greshko

    How’s that crow taste? haha

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