2021 NFL Playoff Picture, Standings: Broncos and Chiefs contend for top spot in AFC West on Sunday Night Football


The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs will meet on Sunday night in a game that has important implications on the NFL playoff picture. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America. The match-up will also be available via live stream on Peacock.

After getting off to a 3-4 start to the season, the Chiefs have won four straight games entering Sunday’s matchup. The Broncos have been inconsistent throughout the season, starting out strong with three straight wins before dropping four consecutive games in October. Heading into Sunday night, Denver has won three of its last four games. With a win over the Chiefs in this Week 13 matchup, the Broncos would be in first place in the AFC West.

Let’s take a closer look at the impact of Sunday’s game on the division and the AFC postseason race.

2021 AFC West playoff race

All four teams in the stacked AFC West are poised to compete for the No. 1 spot in the division. At 7-4, the Chiefs sit atop the division. The Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos are all tied up with 6-5 marks and are just one game out of first place.

The Quarterback Carousel in Denver:

The last time the Broncos won the Super Bowl was 2015, which is also the last time Denver advanced to any round of the postseason. Since Peyton Manning‘s departure following the 2015 season, the Broncos have fielded 11 different signal callers. Below is a complete list of the Broncos QB’s from 2016 until now.

  • Trevor Siemian
  • Paxton Lynch
  • Brock Osweiler
  • Case Keenum
  • Joe Flacco
  • Brandon Allen
  • Jeff Driskel
  • Brett Rypien
  • Kendall Hinton
  • Drew Lock
  • Teddy Bridgewater

The lack of consistency under center has impacted the Broncos’ performance. The last time the Broncos finished a season with a winning record was back in 2016. In 2017, the Broncos finished at 5-11 and then 6-10 in 2018 before posting a 7-9 mark in 2019 and 5-11 record last season. At the start of this season, the Broncos had the worst Total QBR (45.2) in the NFL since 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Prior to the 2019 season, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen had taken snaps under center until the Broncos drafted Drew Lock in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Lock took over at quarterback at the end of the 2019 season and won four of his five starts to enter the 2020 season as the unquestioned starter. That offseason, general manager John Elway focused his attention on bolstering the offense by making additions to the offensive line and selecting explosive wide receivers while also hiring a new offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur to oversee the unit.

Lock, however, led the league interceptions in the 2020 season with 15, forcing Elway to resume his search as the quarterback carousel continued to spin.

This past offseason, the Broncos traded a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers for journeyman QB Teddy Bridgewater. This season, Bridgewater has thrown for 2,518 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions while posting a QBR of 50.1. Last week against the Chargers, Bridgewater suffered a shin injury in the first quarter and had to leave the game. Lock finished out the first half before Bridgewater returned in the second half to lead the Broncos to a commanding 28-13 win.

The Broncos have lost their last 11 contests to the Chiefs dating back to 2015. Bridgewater will try to help end that drought on Sunday night.

The Turnaround of the Chiefs’ Defense:

After advancing to the Super Bowl last year, the Chiefs got off to an unexpectedly poor start to the season, dropping key games to the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. While issues emerged on both sides of the ball, the defense in particular was a weakness.

In September, the Chiefs had the worst defense in the league. Then in October, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo tinkered with the defense, replacing free safety Juan Thornhill with Daniel Sorensen in the starting lineup. Plagued by injuries at the start of the season, the unit got healthier with each passing week as Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Charvarius Ward and linebacker Willie Gay returned. In the month of November, the defense has emerged as the strength of the team.

During the team’s four game winning streak, the Chiefs surrendered less than 20 points in each game, the longest such streak of the season. The last time the unit achieved this feat was over a five-game stretch late in the 2019 season – the same season the Chiefs went on to win Super Bowl LIV.

Defensive end Chris Jones is leading the charge on the Chiefs’ defense as he logged 3.5 sacks, four tackles, three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, one pass defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11. With four division contests to close out the season, the defense could be the reason the Chiefs advance to their seventh-straight postseason.

RELATED: Peter King examines the NFL’s 10 best teams with six weeks left in the season

2021 AFC Playoff Picture:

The AFC remains up for grabs as 11 teams in the conference have six or more wins.

The Baltimore Ravens sit atop the conference with an 8-3 record after defeating the Browns at home on Sunday night despite four interceptions by Lamar Jackson. After the game, Jackson told reporters that he “looked like a rookie.” The Ravens have four division games left on their schedule and two daunting NFC opponents in the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams. Baltimore has not scored more than 16 points in its last three games.

The surging New England Patriots are ranked second in the AFC and have momentum on their side as they extended their winning streak to six games in Week 12 with a convincing 36-13 victory over the Titans that impacted the NFL playoff picture. During their winning streak, the Patriots have won by at least 18 points in five games. They lead the NFL with a point differential of plus-144 despite rookie quarterback Mac Jones falling outside the league’s top 10 in Total QBR. Bill Belichick’s team will have another challenge in Week 13 as they host the Bills in New England.

The Tennessee Titans occupy the third spot in the AFC standings. After winning six straight games from Weeks 5-10, the Titans have dropped their last two contests to the Houston Texans and Patriots. The two-game losing streak has not impacted their standing in the AFC South though as they maintain a two-game lead in the division with five games left to play. With a bye week this week and then two games against the lowly Jaguars and struggling Steelers, the question for the Titans is not whether they will make the playoffs but rather, how far they will play into the postseason.

With a 7-4 mark, the Chiefs occupy the No. 4 spot in the AFC. Despite not playing last week, their playoff positioning did not change. The road ahead is not easy for Kansas City as it has the toughest remaining schedule in the league with opponents posting a combined record of 36-29-1.

The Cincinnati Bengals round out the top five in the AFC. After dropping two straight games to the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, the Bengals have bounced back in recent weeks to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati won those last two contests by a combined 57 points and are now in second place in the AFC North behind the Ravens.

The Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers would clinch the remaining two playoff spots if the season ended today. The recent play of both teams has raised questions though. The Bills have dropped two of the their last four games, including a surprising 9-6 loss to the Jaguars and a 26-point loss to the Colts. After losing to the Broncos this past Sunday, the Chargers fell to 2-4 in their last six games.

2021 NFC Playoff Picture:

The NFL playoff picture in the NFC is less crowded than the AFC.

The Arizona Cardinals sit atop the conference at 9-2 despite ongoing injuries to key players, including quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals have won two of their last three games with backup QB Colt McCoy under center. Because the Cardinals have a half-game lead over the Green Bay Packers and have played one less game, they control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed. Four of their remaining six games are against teams that are at .500 or worse but they will need to be at full strength to come out on top.

The Packers occupy the No. 2 seed after bouncing back from a Week 11 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in a victory over the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. The Packers can ride that energy into their bye week this week, which will also give Aaron Rodgers extra time to rest his fractured toe. Of their five remaining games, three will take place at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are undefeated this season.

Despite a two-game losing streak to the Saints and Washington Football Team at the end of October and beginning of November that caused some panic, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the third playoff spot in the AFC. Over the past two weeks, the Bucs have defeated the Giants and Colts by a combined 68 points to improve to 8-3 overall. Their stock should only continue to rise as five of their last six games are against teams with losing records.

The Cowboys have the fourth spot in the NFC and while they continue to remain in postseason contention, there is cause for concern in Dallas. The Cowboys have dropped three of their last six games, including a 36-33 overtime loss to the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys maintain a two-game lead in the NFC East but Washington is just two games behind and both teams have yet to face each other. Dallas is likely to maintain its first place status in a division in which the three other teams have losing records but momentum is not on their side.

The Los Angeles Rams are ranked No. 5 in the NFC entering Week 13 but they may not remain there for long. After getting off to a 7-1 start in the first half of the season, the Rams have dropped their last three games and Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in each of them. The Rams have a get-right game against the Jaguars in Week 13.

The 49ers and Washington Football Team occupy the final two spots in the conference playoff standings. The 49ers have won three straight games and have found their stride at the right time. For the first time this season, Washington has entered the NFL playoff picture. The Football Team has won three straight and its remaining schedule features five division matchups that could make or break their postseason chances.

RELATED: When do the 2022 NFL playoffs start: Dates, schedule, TV channels, live streams, format

Current 2021 NFL Playoff picture

AFC Standings

Baltimore Ravens (8-3)

New England Patriots (8-4)

Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

Buffalo Bills (7-4)

Los Angeles Chargers (6-5)

On the bubble:

Las Vegas Raiders (6-5)

Denver Broncos (6-5)

Indianapolis Colts (6-6)

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)

Cleveland Browns (6-6)

NFC Standings

Arizona Cardinals (9-2)

Green Bay Packers (9-3)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3)

Dallas Cowboys (8-4)

Los Angeles Rams (7-4)

San Francisco 49ers (6-5)

Washington Football Team (5-6)

On the bubble:

Minnesota Vikings (5-5)

Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

New Orleans Saints (5-7)

Be sure to follow ProFootballTalk for breaking news, updates, and much more! 

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

NFL owners meetings: TNF flex, Roger Goodell contract


PHOENIX, Az. – On the agenda here and elsewhere, 32 days before the next tentpole event, the draft:

1. The league really wants the Thursday flex. I’m dubious it’ll pass. We can all agree this seems insane. Moving a game from 1 p.m. Sunday to 8:20 p.m. Sunday is inconvenient, to say the least, for the fans in attendance. Moving it three days earlier, as is on the agenda for a vote here, is a punch in the face to the fans who’ve planned trips to see games and either won’t be able to see a game played three days earlier or will have lives turned upside down in order to do so. But I’m told this is something Roger Goodell really wants to have in his tool box, to prevent awful games for a partner already struggling with audience share, Amazon. But coaches hate the idea. “Really hate it,” one of them told me here Sunday. In discussions with those who want this to pass, one told me, “It might make sense to max it out at one per season.” It still will be bad for the product and for the fans in-stadium, but it is sensible to legislate not being able to do it more than once per year.

2. The Goodell contract. Roger Goodell, 64, is signed as commissioner through March 2024, and Adam Schefter reported last week he’s expected to get an extension. Whether that happens this week or at the May meetings, it seems to be a matter of time. Goodell is approaching a milestone in the annals of the 104-year-old pro game. By the time training camp begins, Goodell will have the second-longest tenure of any NFL commissioner since World War II. The longest tenures:

 Pete Rozelle, Feb. 1960-Nov. 1989: 29 years, 9 months.

 Paul Tagliabue, Nov. 1989-Sept. 2006: 16 years, 10 months.

 Roger Goodell, Sept. 2006-present: 16 years, 7 months.

For those who will want Goodell replaced—for any of myriad reasons—remember four things: He works for the owners, who are mostly happy with his performance; he has kept the game from any work stoppages that resulted in lost regular-season or playoff games, and this CBA doesn’t expire till early 2031; he has lorded over a league that dominates the sports landscape even when it’s not playing games; and there’s the matter of franchise values. Average value of a franchise in 2006, when he took over: $898 million. Denver sold last year for five times that. Washington could sell this year for seven times that. Plus, flourishing through COVID-19. That’s why you won’t hear anyone, even Goodell’s occasional league rivals like Jerry Jones, lobbying for a change at the top. Goodell is in a power position for a three- or four-year extension.

Trolling the Biltmore lobby Sunday morning, I ran into one high-ranking club official and asked about the Goodell extension. “Think back to 2006. If you told any owner they’d have 16 years of labor peace, labor deals that lasted into 2030, two teams in L.A., a great stadium in L.A., franchise values way up, they’d all sign for that. They’d more than sign for that.” He’s right—even with the ham-handed handling of the Daniel Snyder ruination of the Washington franchise. Goodell isn’t perfect. But his predecessors weren’t either. Rozelle had labor stoppages and a nonstop war with Al Davis. Tagliabue was late to the party on head trauma. Commissioners must be judged on the balance of their tenures.

3. Noto contendre? So who will replace Goodell when the day comes? Speculation will center on Brian Rolapp, as it should, and Troy Vincent if the league looks internally for Goodell’s replacement, with Rolapp having an edge among active league office execs. Some club executives—Mark Donovan (Kansas City), Tom Garfinkel (Miami), Kevin Demoff (Rams)—could surface as well. My not-so-dark horse is Anthony Noto, the CEO of personal finance giant SoFi, and former CFO of the NFL (2008-2010). Strong profile: West Point grad, masters at Wharton, former COO of Twitter. Noto, 54, left the league on very good terms, is a huge football fan, and knows how to make money. Right up the owners’ alley.

4. The Snyder story. Most league people don’t expect a resolution here. The feeling is it’s somewhere between likely and very likely that Snyder ends up selling the entire franchise and not just a piece. Here’s an interesting thing I found out Sunday: One source with significant financial knowledge about the league said Snyder is highly unlikely to get his dream price for the team–$7 billion. Snyder, this source said, is more likely to sell the full asset for something just over $6 billion. Not bad. That’s still 7.5 times the price he paid for the franchise 24 years ago. How many businesses get that kind of returns over a quarter-century, particularly while running the business into the ground as Snyder has done?

Time is running out for Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

5. I remember when punting mattered. Interesting that when Troy Vincent discussed punting on an NFL conference call Friday, his first comment was about how it is “the most penalized play, the most injurious play in the game.” Catch his drift? The NFL wants to significantly cut down on punts in the game. There’s a proposal here to have touchbacks on punts returned to the 25-yard line, not the 20-, in part to encourage teams with a fourth down near midfield to go for it instead of punting it away. But also because the returners parked around the 10-yard line might let more punts go in hopes that they bounce into the end zone.

6. Bryce Young helped himself more than C.J. Stroud in their pro days last week, from the sound of it. A rep of a team that will likely draft a quarterback this year told me Sunday: “If you watch Bryce Young, and you didn’t know he was 5’10”, you wouldn’t think about his height. It was a disadvantage from the tape I watched.” This team has Young as its top quarterback, for what it’s worth. I’d been told previously that Young, in not getting many passes batted down at the line, has a sense of playing bigger than he is. It’s just one of the factors that has to be weighing on Carolina as the Panthers consider what to do at number one—take Young, or take the quarterback five inches taller in Stroud. As of Sunday night, no team here had been in contact with the Panthers about trading the top pick, and it’d likely be a useless venture, at least now. Carolina has no interest in moving the pick.

7. The Lamar saga. Day 12 of Lamar Jackson on the rested free-agent market, and no news is bad news. Not a soul here is even whispering about the prospect of Jackson getting an offer sheet, and there’s no sign of talks between the Ravens and Jackson to try to rekindle contract discussions. All I can say is the Ravens had better, deep in the back of their pragmatic minds, start to consider veteran alternatives—and maybe even the rookie second- and third-round QB market.

8. Re the other rules proposals. I give the proposal to have a third QB active as an extra player on gamedays—call it The Brock Purdy Rule—a good shot to pass if the league can figure out a way to make it ironclad that only emergency QBs will be used as the third player. I am not optimistic about passage for the Rams’ proposal to make roughing-the-quarterback reviewable by replay. Solid point by Rams COO Kevin Demoff Sunday: “We’re not increasing the number of challenges per team, which stays at two. This is a call that often swings momentum in the game. I don’t understand why making it reviewable is so controversial.” He’s right, but too many teams in the league are against any expansion of replay.

9. Bobby Wagner. Some buzz here about the return of Wagner to Seattle on a one-year deal over the weekend for his age-33 season, his 12th in the league. This is not just Seattle bringing the highest-rated linebacker in football in 2022 (per PFF) back after his one-year detour to the Rams. It is a tribute to Wagner being mature and burning no bridges when he was a cap casualty with the Seahawks last spring, and to the Seahawks for knowing Wagner’s value to the franchise and the defense he helped become the Legion of Boom—and, frankly, to Wagner’s value to the 2023 team. Too often, long and valued relationships get thrown in the garbage because the business of football interferes, and Wagner was smart enough to understand the sport and the business to not burn those bridges. And it’s a tribute to Seattle GM John Schneider for how he handled Wagner since drafting him in the second round of the 2012 draft. The mutual respect drips from this return. Let it be a model for other great players and franchises.

10. On football as rugby. The NFL will very likely continue to allow ball carriers to be pushed from behind in 2023, defying the aesthetics of a sport that is not rugby and subjecting more quarterbacks to be treated like endangered objects in the middle of trash-compactors. Three reasons why the Competition Committee doesn’t have a proposal on the agenda to eliminate the play at this week’s meetings:

  • Despite some opposition to the play, I’m told the league and the Competition Committee knew there were at least nine teams solidly against changing the rule that allows runners to be assisted from behind. Committee chair Rich McKay said Friday there are “certainly not” 24 teams that think the rule should be changed. Since at least 24 teams would have had to vote to change the rule, it was fruitless to bring it to a vote here.
  • The Competition Committee was not unanimously for changing the rule. Under committee rules, that’s necessary to bring a rule out of committee for a vote by the 32 teams.
  • There’s also pro-Eagles sentiment I’ve heard, sentiment that goes like this: The Eagles did nothing wrong. They played by the rules that were on the books, succeeded, and we’re not going to punish them for that.

It’s counter to the NFL’s on-and-on emphasis on player safety to not adjust this rule, or to eliminate it. Frankly, it’s mind-boggling. The Eagles had incredible success (they were 37 of 41 last year on QB sneaks, many of which featured two players pushing Jalen Hurts from behind), and Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore also experimented with assisting the runner from behind. Coaches in Denver and Seattle have said they’ll work on the technique for 2023. When one successful team has a 90 percent success rate, as the Eagles did on the sneak, well, why wouldn’t other teams adopt it?

My problem, aside from the fact that it’s not a football play, is that it’s only a matter of time before a quarterback gets hurt on the play. In the Super Bowl, on one Hurts sneak, Kansas City sent a defensive lineman, missile-like, over the scrum at the line of scrimmage. How dangerous is a 290-pound projectile hurtling toward a quarterback? How fortunate is it that he, or Hurts, was not concussed on that play?

“There are people within the committee and people within the survey that weren’t big fans of the play and were concerned about the safety aspect of it,” McKay said.

So the NFL will wait until a quarterback gets hurt. Then it will take action, presumably—after the position the league has sworn to protect is diminished by an injury to, perhaps, a marquee player.

On Friday, I called a defensive assistant coach on a team that played the Eagles last season and asked about how they coached to defend the play. He said there are four keys: try to get the offensive line to false start by studying the Eagles’ cadence and drawing them to jump; “submarine” the offensive line by getting lower than the blockers and fire off aggressively at the snap; if necessary, as Kansas City did, go over the top to be physical with the quarterback; and studying the formation to see which center-guard hole can be divided by a rusher with a linebacker assisting him from behind, if need be.

“I think other teams will try to employ it, yes,” this assistant coach said. “And then after you do all that, I still think it’s important to hit the quarterback. It can be dangerous, but if it’s going to be legal to do, we’ve got to do something to try to stop it.”

One other thing, this coach said: “It’s hard, almost impossible, to simulate the play at full speed in practice. Too much of a chance of someone getting hurt.”

I think the NFL’s going to live to regret this inaction.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column