The Broncos need to win tomorrow if they're to keep alive any hopes of gaining a top-two seed and first-round bye in this year's playoffs.
But beyond those loftiest of goals, a Denver victory tomorrow would be significant on its own, as it would ensure the Broncos of being no worse than the AFC's number-three seed in the playoffs. Denver would move to 11-3, drop Baltimore to 9-5, and also own a head-to-head tiebreaker over them, were both teams to finish with 11 wins.
The difference between a three and four seed may not seem that great at first glance, but without knowing how the rest of the AFC will shake out, it certainly could end up being a big deal.
Our assumption is that New England will take home-field and the number-one seed, with Houston likely the two seed. Under such a scenario, Denver being the three seed would mean a first-round win sends them to Houston, which is preferable to a divisional-round visit to Foxboro. This also raises the unlikely possibility that another, lower seeded team knocks out the Patriots, and would then give the Broncos a chance to knock off the Texans and host the AFC title game.
Lots of ifs and assumptions in there, for sure, two Denver playoff wins inclusive. We only intend here to illustrate the potential value of gaining the number-three seed with a win tomorrow.
Of course, Houston could hang on for home-field advantage, and then Denver would perhaps prefer to be the four seed. Either way, they'll be hosting a playoff game for sure - it's just a question of whether it's in the wild-card or divisional round, and of whom they'll be facing.
Advanced NFL Stats
Denver remains first overall (offense fourth, defense third) according to Brian Burke's efficiency data, just a shade ahead of the Niners, whom they're hoping will knock off the Patriots tomorrow night.
The Broncos are tied in passing efficiency and sixth in rushing, while the defense is fifth against the pass and tied for sixth versus the run.
Remaining opponents (Baltimore 21st, Cleveland 24th, Kansas City 30th) all rank poorly according to Burke.
Pro Football Reference
The Broncos have dropped from third to fifth overall on PFR's Simple Rating System, ranking third on offense and fourth on defense.
Baltimore ranks 10th, Cleveland is 23rd, and KC is 32nd, according to SRS.
Pro Football Focus
PFF"s grading still has Denver as the NFL's second-best team (third on offense, second on defense), far behind San Francisco and similarly ahead of New England.
Broken down by unit, they're tops in passing and 20th in rushing on offense, while on defense, they're sixth versus the pass and second against the run.
As for looming opponents, the Ravens are 13th overall, Browns are 19th, and the Chiefs are a surprising 23rd.
As follows the efficiency rankings, Burke's game probabilities heavily side with Denver as a 67% favorite tomorrow at Baltimore. Only Miami (versus Jacksonville) and Houston (over Indy) sport stronger advantages this week.
Burke's figures actually favor Denver over New England in the race for the #2 seed, which will likely be determined tomorrow night (each team faces relatively weak opponents in the season's last two weeks). The probabilities say the Broncos have a 51% chance at a first-round bye, and a 90% chance at a top-three seed.
The betting public says Denver is a 2.5-point favorite tomorrow.
No matter the margin, a Broncos win will likely have a serious impact on the team's playoff seeding and future prospects.