ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Saturday afternoon, the Denver Broncos were eyeing the playoffs.

By Sunday afternoon, however, that dream was officially over as Denver was mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

Now, entering Week 16, the focus has drastically changed. It’s all about the future, and that means all eyes are on the draft.

With two games left to play, Denver currently owns the 14th overall pick. But if things shake their way — depending on how you look at it — Denver can quickly climb the draft board.

Here are the picks Denver could end up with at the end of the season and what needs to happen.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Frankly, a lot.

Fifteen picks in the draft, to be exact.

The highest possible pick Denver can obtain is No. 5 — the same pick they had last year in which they landed pass-rushing sensation Bradley Chubb.

However, they can also fall and end up with the No. 20-overall pick — the final spot for non-playoff teams.

Let us examine.

DRAFT ORDER ENTERING WEEK 16

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals (3-11)

No. 2 Oakland Raiders (3-11)

No. 3 San Francisco 49ers (4-10)

No. 4 New York Jets (4-10)

No. 5 Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)

No. 6 Detroit Lions (5-9)

No. 7 Atlanta Falcons (5-9)

No. 8 New York Giants (5-9)

No. 9 Buffalo Bills (5-9)

No. 10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9)

No. 11 Green Bay Packers (5-8-1)

No. 12 Carolina Panthers (6-8)

No. 13 Cincinnati Bengals (6-8)

No. 14 Denver Broncos (6-8)

No. 15 Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

No. 16 Washington Redskins (7-7)

No. 17 Miami Dolphins (7-7)

No. 18 Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

No. 19 Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

No. 20 Tennessee Titans (8-6)

HOW TO LAND No. 5

The road to five is tough.

If the Broncos take care of business, aka lose the final two games, they’ll still need substantial help.

All of the following teams must win out:

  • Jacksonville
  • Detroit
  • Atlanta
  • New York Giants
  • Buffalo

Additionally, the following teams must win at least one game:

  • Tampa Bay
  • Carolina
  • Green Bay (Specifically the Packers must lose to the Lions and beats the Jets)

Denver and Cincinnati are currently tied for the first tiebreaker, strength of schedule, but the Bengals own, and will own, the second tiebreaker. It’s possible Denver can own the first tiebreaker over the Bengals, but if Denver wants to not have it come down to chance, the Bengals will need to win one game.

There is a slim chance the Broncos would own the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker over the Falcons and Giants. If that is the case, Denver would only need the Falcons and Giants to win one game, but the odds are not in the Broncos’ favor of them owning that tiebreaker. Thus, Denver likely need both teams to win out.

Even if all of this happens, Denver will still need the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker to fall their way with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are close enough in that category where the Broncos could accomplish this. Or, Tampa Bay could win out to avoid this.

HOW TO LAND No. 20

If the Broncos take care of business the other way and win out, they’ll need the following to happen to have the worst pick among non-playoff teams.

  • Baltimore must lose out

Additionally, the following teams must lose at least one game:

  • Cleveland
  • Washington
  • Miami
  • Philadelphia

And

  • Tennessee or Indianapolis must make the playoffs
    • The team that loses their Week 17 showdown must also lose in Week 16
  • Pittsburgh must make the playoffs

NO BREAKS

Thought the season was hard? This news will only make it tougher to swallow.

Not only did Denver play one of the toughest schedules in the league, despite finishing 5-11 last year, but their difficult strength of schedule is likely to come back to haunt them again with their place in the draft.

The draft order is determined by the team’s record at the end of the season, with the team with the worst record picking first.

If, however, multiple teams have the same record, the first tiebreaker is “strength of schedule.” The team with the more difficult strength of schedule picks behind the team with the easier strength of schedule.

As it currently stands, Denver would only “win” the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker with Jacksonville and Oakland. The Broncos cannot tie the Raiders, so essentially Denver will likely only get the tiebreaker against the Jaguars among teams that will miss the playoffs.

A tough schedule just got tougher.

HOW IT COULD SHAKE OUT

As laid out above, it’s possible for Denver to have a top-five pick for a second year in a row. It’s also possible for the Broncos to land the worst pick among non-playoff teams.

The reality is they’ll likely be closer to where they currently stand at 14.

The realistic window for Denver is somewhere in the mid-to-low teens.

WHAT IT MEANS

As mentioned above, a lot is at stake.

While Vance Joseph and his players admittedly, and understandably, want to win the final two games, that could drastically impact the type of player John Elway gets to select in the first round in April. Not to mention all of the following rounds.

In Todd McShay’s first mock draft, the first four picks — which Denver cannot land without a trade — are all defensive lineman.

In that scenario, if Denver landed the No. 5 overall pick, they would have their choice of any non-defensive lineman in the draft.

Most importantly, Elway and Co. would get their No. 1 choice at quarterback, regardless of if they go this route.

If, however, Denver falls closer to 20, they will be far out of the running for a top quarterback. While there’s still plenty of talent later in the first round, winning the final two games will only make it more difficult on the Broncos to land the best player.

CHUBB VS. BOLLES

Look no further than the Broncos themselves to see the drastic difference the No. 5 overall pick and No. 20 overall pick can be.

Last year, the Broncos selected Chubb at No. 5.

Just the year before that, they drafted Garett Bolles with the No. 20 overall pick.

Through nearly his first two seasons in the NFL, Bolles has been near the top of the league in sacks allowed and penalties.

On the other hand, Chubb, a top-five pick, was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate his first year in the league and is only 2.5 sacks away from breaking the all-time record for sacks by a rookie.

TAKEAWAY

It’s simple. The next two games matter. A lot.

Zac Stevens
Author

Zac Stevens, is a native, born and raised in Denver, Colorado and is on the full-time Broncos beat for BSNDenver.com. Education: Graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Denver in 2014, studying political science and business while in school, and sports during most of his free time. Career: After graduating from DU, Zac deviated from his predetermined law school path after receiving an offer to work for the Cleveland Browns. As a remote employee, he evaluated talent both at the collegiate and professional level as a remote scout for the Browns. Two and a half years later, Zac changed career paths from working for an NFL organization to covering one. At the beginning of 2016, he began covering the Broncos on a full-time basis and after building a portfolio and relationships, joined BSN in October of the same year. Zac and Ryan Koenigsberg have been on the beat together for BSN since, making them only one of two organizations that has two members covering the team on a daily basis. Most memorable sports moment: Growing up in Denver, the two most memorable sports moments in my life are also the most inconceivable—the 2007 Colorado Rockies World Series run and the magical Tim Tebow season with the Broncos. While neither teams were supposed to do anything, both defied the odds and had a run that will be remembered forever in Denver sports history. The finest sports book I’ve ever read: The Natural was a fantastic read as I was going through high school. While the movie is also a classic, the book showed the true highs and lows into the life of an athlete in the 1950’s. A reason to read: Even if you’ve seen the movie, the book ends differently from the movie. One sports move that I can’t live without: My favorite sports movie, unequivocally, is Remember the Titans. Not only does it do a terrific job showing the true inner workings of a high school sports team, it shows how much of an impact sports can have on a community. And who doesn’t love Sunshine? Most memorable experience as a reporter: The day Gary Kubiak had his retirement ceremony is a day I will never forget. Not only was it a crucial time in the Broncos’ history, but it was a rare time when John Elway and Gary had their guards down in front of a media contingent, telling true and raw stories that would only happen in this setting. The sport that started it all: Football. While I didn’t play football until high school, it grabbed my attention since the moment I can remember. Ever since, nothing has changed.