For the first time in a long time, the Denver Broncos played a game with some fairly relevant playoff implications last weekend. Their victory over the Minnesota Vikings, in conjunction with an Oakland loss, gave the Broncos the chance to determine their own fate.
However, that doesn't mean that the Broncos are free and clear. They still need to match pace, not only in their division, but also in the AFC to ensure they make the playoffs.
Here is what John Fox and the rest of the team are looking at, heading into their game with Chicago.
Time may be running out on the Titans to catch Houston, but the AFC Wild Card is a real possibility for the Titans.
The Broncos do not want to find themselves tied with Tennessee alone for a wild-card spot due to their heads-up loss, but luckily for the Broncos the New Orleans Saints might be willing to help with that.
The Titans face an extremely tough test against New Orleans this week and most experts agree that Tennessee might not have enough firepower to keep up.
With a win the Broncos could add some distance between themselves and Tennessee, just in case the division gets lost somehow.
The New York Jets have been fighting for their playoff lives since their loss to Denver on Thursday Night Football.
Fans in New York should now be hoping that the Broncos continue their run to the AFC West crown, because a tie with Denver for the AFC Wild Card means lights-out for the Jets.
The Jets seem to have a good chance at a win with Kansas City coming to town, so the Broncos need to follow suit and win their game as well to keep the heat on.
A Broncos loss and Jets win is not the end of a potential playoff berth for Denver, especially since the Jets still have a game with the Giants to deal with, but it makes things significantly harder, especially considering that the Broncos still have New England coming to town.
Another game for the Bengals, against yet another team still fighting to protect their playoff position.
This time it is the Houston Texans that the Bengals need to try to dispatch to keep their playoff hopes strong.
This is an absolute must-win for the Bengals to try to keep pace, because the smart money says that Baltimore will have plenty to play for in the final week of the season and could hang another loss on Cincinnati.
If the Bengals lose to the Texans this weekend and to the Ravens in the final week, it is likely that their playoff dreams will go unrealized.
Anything can happen though, and much like the tiebreaker with the Jets, the Broncos can afford to be tied with Cincy.
However, beating the Bears could put Denver ahead of two of their three wild-card competitors if the games go the way many think they will.
The Broncos control their destiny within the West and therefore they must simply keep pace with Oakland and remain tied or better through the end of the season.
That is why a loss to the Bears is not devastating because it likely will result in the two teams—Denver and Oakland—staying right where they are now, with Denver in the lead via a tiebreaker.
However, being a game ahead with a win and an Oakland loss feels much better considering the Patriots game will be a test for Denver coming up next. It also helps that the Raiders will have their hands full with the Lions next week also.
Fortunately, the Broncos seem to be in a good position to at least not hinder their playoff chances much this weekend. Still, if the Broncos want to be true contenders then they need to win games in which they are favored and protect their home field.
They will have the chance to send out an official opening statement for their playoff candidacy this weekend against Chicago.