The Indianapolis Colts eliminated the Las Vegas Raiders from playoff contention with their 23-20 victory in Week 17, and the Kansas City Chiefs clinched the AFC West with a 25-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, thus eliminating the Denver Broncos as well.
The Week 18 matchup between the Raiders and Broncos is one of two games featuring teams that have both already been eliminated from playoff contention, the other being the AFC East battle between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.
Throughout the rest of the NFL, there are only two other "meaningless" Week 18 games, both also in the AFC. The Chiefs are locked into the No. 3 seed and take on the eliminated Los Angeles Chargers, and the Cleveland Browns are locked into the No. 5 seed and take on the eliminated Bengals.
The thing about the Raiders vs. Broncos game?
It might not actually be meaningless when it comes to the AFC playoff race.
There is no way for either team to get into the playoffs, but there is a way for this game to influence who takes the No. 7 seed in the AFC. Only a few things need to happen to make that the case.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans and the game between the Houston Texans and Colts does not end in a tie, then the winner of the latter game will be AFC South champions at 10-7.
The Jaguars would be in second place in the division at 9-8; they would own a head-to-head sweep tiebreaker over the Colts if the Colts lose and drop to 9-8, and they would own a better divisional record than the Texans if the Texans lose and drop to 9-8.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Baltimore Ravens, they too will be 9-8. A potential 9-8 Bengals team cannot pass the Steelers in the AFC North, due to Pittsburgh's head-to-head sweep.
That would set up a scenario in which the Jaguars and Steelers are tied for the final playoff spot. On paper, the tiebreaker goes to the Jaguars, since the Jaguars beat the Steelers head-to-head. But if a third team from another division is involved in the tie, that changes which tiebreaker is used.
Should the Raiders lose on Sunday and the Jaguars, Steelers, and Broncos all end up tied at 9-8, the tiebreaker would become their records within the AFC. All three would be 6-6 within the AFC, so the tiebreaker would then become strength of victory. That is a tiebreaker owned by Pittsburgh, not Jacksonville.
So we could very well end up in a situation where the Raiders have a chance to spoil the Steelers' season -- and thus save the Jaguars' season -- by beating the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps this one won't be meaningless after all.
As to why a potential 9-8 Bengals team and the loser of the Texans vs. Colts game (also 9-8) would not be factored into this tiebreaker, the reason is simple.
When it comes to multi-team Wild Card logjams, divisional tiebreakers are utilized first. If teams are tied within a division, the team that loses out on the divisional tiebreaker cannot be sent to the playoffs ahead of the team that owns the tiebreaker. So the Bengals are already eliminated, and the loser of the Texans vs. Colts game will be as well.