Playoff picture: What's at stake for Chargers, Broncos in Week 15

By Joe Ferreira | Special to CBSSports.com

The division-rival Broncos and Chargers both have plenty on the line.
The division-rival Chargers and Broncos both have plenty on the line.(USATSI)

We start NFL Week 15 off with a bang as San Diego visits Denver, pitting a team trying to stay alive for the playoffs against another trying to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

IF SAN DIEGO WINS:

The Chargers would even out their record at 7-7 overall but would still have a sub-par 4-6 conference record. San Diego trails Kansas City by four games going in, so their only playoff hope is the No. 6 seed. This win would go a long way to help get there as San Diego has Oakland at home in Week 16 prior to closing at home against Kansas City. With tough games this week for 7-6 Miami (New England) and 7-6 Baltimore (at Detroit), it is very possible San Diego could be tied for the last playoff spot after this week if they can win this tough road test. If San Diego can get to 9-7, they would need the following to claim a playoff berth:

-- Baltimore to end at 8-8 or worse as San Diego would lose to the Ravens on conference record (7-5 at worst vs. 6-6)

-- Either Miami is 8-8 or worse (San Diego lost to Miami head to head and has a worse conference record) or the NY Jets get to 9-7 along with Miami. If the Jets tie Miami at 9-7 including a win over Miami on Week 17, the Jets would win a tiebreaker over the Dolphins on common opponents (7-5 vs. 6-6) and the Chargers would beat the Jets for the No. 6 seed on conference record (6-6 vs. 5-7).

With a loss in this game, Denver would fail to clinch the division and could lose their hold on the No. 1 seed if New England beats Miami (New England beat Denver head to head). If Kansas City wins this week, the Chiefs would pull even with the Broncos and could threaten Denver's division title hopes, although Kansas City would have to win outright due to their sweep at the hands of the Broncos.

IF DENVER WINS:

Denver is already in the playoffs. With a win over San Diego, Denver would get to 12-2 overall and 8-2 in the conference and would be looking toward the Kansas City at Oakland game to see if they can capture the division crown on Week 15 with a Chiefs loss. If that occurs AND Cincinnati loses on Sunday night at Pittsburgh, the Broncos would gain a first-round playoff bye since neither the North or South division champion could catch them in tiebreakers. A Denver win also keeps the Patriots at bay for at least another week in the race for the AFC's No. 1 seed. A Denver win plus a Kansas City loss and a New England loss means Denver would only have to win one of its last two games to gain homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

San Diego losing would pretty much be the nail in the Chargers' coffin as they would be at 6-8 overall and 3-7 in the conference. With this loss, San Diego would be eliminated if either Baltimore wins (Ravens get to 8 wins and Chargers can't beat them in tiebreakers or use any other team due to poor conference record) or Miami wins + NY Jets loss. Miami getting to 8 wins hurts the Chargers since the Dolphins beat San Diego head to head and have the superior conference record, but it needs to be combined with a N.Y. Jets loss so that the Jets can't beat Miami in a tiebreaker at 8-8 (the Jets would lose on conference record in this case but would beat Miami on common opponents if they win this week). If the Jets were up against San Diego in a scenario where they won this week and finish 8-8 along with Miami, San Diego would win that tiebreaker on conference record at 5-7 vs. 4-8 and grab the No. 6 seed.

 
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