When is Sean Payton’s team true playoff contender?

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Parker Gabriel, Broncos beat reporter: Happy Thanksgiving, dudes. The Denver Broncos football club, somewhat inexplicably, has provided us with a cornucopia of interesting storylines over the past month-plus. A team that at one point might have had the pick of the 2024 quarterback litter now is tied for the longest active winning streak in the National Football League. It’s at four games and another defensive stalwart and AFC contender comes to Denver this weekend in the Cleveland Browns. The 7-3 Cleveland Browns. So, this week’s roundtable question is not about who wins the game Sunday but who comes out on top when these two meet again in the AFC Championship Game. OK, that was a lame joke. The question, actually, is at what point will you consider the Broncos honest-to-goodness playoff contenders? Maybe you already do, though the computers say otherwise at this point. I’m saying they’ve got to win two of the next three. Of Denver and its three upcoming opponents — the Browns, at Houston, at Los Angeles — somehow the Chargers are the worst of the bunch. But if you’re not at 7-6, minimum, the numbers get tricky quickly. And, really, the next two are critical. Get to 7-5 and I’ll start contemplating how funny (and sunny) a Round 2 in Miami would be less than four months after giving up 70 points.

Ryan McFadden, Broncos beat reporter: If the Broncos reach 7-5, I’m all aboard the playoff train. But the fact we are discussing playoffs after how the season started is still crazy. Outside of the Lions game, the Broncos should be able to beat the remaining teams on the schedule. I’m not saying they will win out, but Denver won’t go into most of these games as clear-cut underdogs, especially with how the defense has played as of late.

Denver’s next two games will be critical. Cleveland has one of the best defenses in the league and will certainly challenge the Broncos’ offense, which is still looking to find its groove. And the Texans are in the playoff hunt as well. Rookie quarterback CJ Stroud threw three interceptions in his last game, but overall, he has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The Broncos win both of those games and it’s going to get crazy. They will face the Chargers, Detroit and Patriots after that. I think they lose to the Lions but I can see them beating Los Angeles and New England. Denver’s chances to make the postseason are still slim, but the team is in the thick of the fight and that’s what matters.

Sean Keeler, sports columnist: Those computers are mean, soulless automatons who’ve been hit in their motherboards one too many times by Kareem Jackson. (Too soon? Yeah. Too soon.) Honestly? Ask me after Houston. If the Broncos can sweep the Brownies and Texans and hit 7-5, they’d up that AFC mark (shakes fist at the Raiders) to 4-4, giving those wonky tiebreaker arguments a little firmer box to stand on.

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