The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos 30-27 in overtime in one of the wildest finishes of the NFL season.
Although it took a ricocheted field goal from Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos to get the Chiefs the win, the Broncos’ decision to go for a 62-yard field goal on the possession before has been the talk of the NFL world on Monday.
With the game tied at 27, the Broncos got a first down on the Chiefs’ 44-yard line with 2:40 remaining. The Broncos attempted to move down the field, but failed, resulting in a 4th-and-10 from the 44.
From there, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak faced a tough decision. He could punt and (likely) give the Chiefs the final possession, he could attempt to get a first down, or attempt the field goal. Kubiak chose the latter. Kicker Brandon McManus missed the 62-yard attempt, giving the Chiefs the ball at Denver’s 48. They moved the ball down the field and got the game-winning field goal.
Kubiak essentially went for the win over a tie, and it backfired. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell writes that Kubiak and the Broncos could have eliminated a loss from the equation by running out the clock and attempting the same 62-yard field goal with a second left. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert argues that, based on numbers, the Broncos chose the riskiest option — punting was the safest option, though it would have likely resulted in a tie.
After the game, Kubiak said that he wanted to go for the win, and Broncos players supported him for it. However, that same decision could come back to haunt the Broncos in their race for the playoffs.
As of Monday, the Broncos sit third in the competitive AFC West. The Raiders lead the division at 9-2, while the Chiefs sit in second at 8-3. The 7-4 Broncos are tied with the Miami Dolphins for the last spot in the AFC Wild Card race. According to the NFL, ties between Wild Card teams from different divisions is decided by record within the conference. Currently, the Dolphins would be in over the Broncos as they sport a 5-3 record vs. the AFC while the Broncos are 4-3.
The Broncos are now in a tough spot. Their schedule is difficult the rest of the way, as they play the Jaguars, Titans, Patriots, Chiefs, and Raiders, all AFC teams over their final five games. The Dolphins, meanwhile, play the Ravens, Cardinals, Jets, Bills, and Patriots. The Broncos remaining opponents sport a combined record of 34-22. Four of the Dolphins’ remaining opponents are from the AFC, and they have a combined 24-20 record. On record alone, the Broncos have a tougher schedule.
Had the Broncos conceded a tie — it should be noted that punting the ball did not guarantee a tie — they would at least be tied with the Chiefs for the final Wild Card spot at 7-3-1, with the Dolphins on the outside looking in. They would also only be 1.5 games back of the first-place Raiders as opposed to two games back, and they would sport a better inter-conference record.
If the playoffs started today, the Broncos would be sitting home. There’s still plenty of time to get back in, but they have a tough road ahead, and essentially need the Dolphins or Chiefs to lose games against weaker opponents. With five weeks of the regular season remaining, the Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs could have enormous consequences down the stretch.
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