Struggling Broncos could surprise Steelers

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
12:31
PM ET
Despite falling to the Chiefs on Sunday, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos clinched the AFC West title when the Raiders lost to San Diego.

Denver is the sixth team under the current NFL playoff format (since 1990) to make the playoffs after losing four of its first five games.

All five of the previous teams opened the playoffs at home, with mixed results. Three of the five won their first game, including the 2002 Tennessee Titans, who defeated the Steelers in the Divisional Playoffs before losing to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game.

But this Broncos team lacks something all five of those other teams had: a positive point differential. Denver’s point differential of -81 was 25th in the league this season, and it’s the second-worst of any playoff team since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978.

However, the team with the worst such mark was last year’s Seahawks, who shocked the Saints in Seattle in the Wild Card Round. Bizarrely, all five previous playoff teams with a point differential of -50 or worse won their Wild Card game.

Denver’s point differential did improve with Tim Tebow as starter, but more because of the defense than the offense.

In Tebow’s 11 starts, the Broncos scored two and a half fewer points per game than in Kyle Orton’s five starts. But the defense allowed 5.3 fewer points per game in Tebow’s starts, which improved the team’s point differential from -7.0 points per game under Orton to -4.3 points per game under Tebow.

While Denver's points were down under Tebow, their yards were up slightly, gaining 18.9 more yards per game in Tebow’s starts. The main difference was merely how those yards were accumulated, as the Broncos nearly doubled their rush yards per game and saw their pass yards drop by 56 percent.

The Broncos faded in the last three weeks of the season, losing three straight after winning seven of Tebow's first eight starts.

Tebow's completion percentage dropped from 48.9 in his first eight starts to 41.1 in his final three, and he threw four interceptions in those three games, compared to two the rest of the season.

His Total QBR reflects those struggles as well. It stood at 32.5 entering Week 15, but a 12.3 QBR in the final three weeks dropped it to 27.2 for the season, ranking 32nd out of 34 quarterbacks, ahead of only Curtis Painter and Blaine Gabbert, who were both far from reaching the playoffs this season.

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