There is no underselling the value of Denver's second defeat of Kansas City in three games. It's not just that the Broncos will win the AFC West (they hold the tiebreaker); it's that they shouldn't lose another game ... period.
Check out the schedule: They not only don't play another opponent with a winning record, but the rest of the lineup has a combined mark of 16-32. So what? So it guarantees the Broncos don't have to worry about going to New England again.
The Patriots hold the tiebreaker with Denver but have one more loss ... a loss the Broncos will not suffer ... which means if and when they play New England in Brady-Manning XV, it will be in Denver.
--2. Let's face it: The more you watch the AFC the more you realize only two teams matter in January: Denver and New England, with Cincinnati a distant third.
--3. Stick a fork in Kansas City. The Chiefs will make the playoffs, but they're no Super Bowl threat. The reason: The defense that carried the team to a 9-0 start has disappeared, with the Chiefs allowing an average ... AN AVERAGE ... of 29 points and 445.7 yards the last three games, all losses, with two of them at home. Alex Smith is not built to overcome those numbers.
--4. Next time Denver and Kansas City meet, someone paint a bull's-eye on the uniform of Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper. Either that or outfit him in a non-flammable jersey.
--5. A month ago, Kansas City led the league in sacks with 36. In the four games since, they have one, including none in two starts vs. Denver. When you wonder what happened to the Chiefs, start there.
--6. Don't go to sleep on San Francisco. Not only do the 49ers have a tough and physical defense, but they just got Michael Crabtree back at wide receiver. No, I don't expect Crabtree to be the player he was a year ago, but he passed his first audition Sunday when he took one of his two catches 60 yards. Color the 49ers dangerous.
--7. This is where we find out about New Orleans. Three of the Saints' next four games are on the road, including Monday at Seattle and Dec. 22 at Carolina. The one home date? Make it next weekend vs. Carolina, the NFL's hottest team.
--8. Carolina's only obstacle the rest of the way is New Orleans, with the Panthers playing the Saints twice. After that, it's layups vs. the Jets and Atlanta, which means New Orleans can't afford to look over its shoulder. Indoor teams don't go to Super Bowls when they have to go outside for the playoffs.
--9. Look at it this way, Mike Shanahan. At least now you know what to give Jeff Triplette for Christmas: A ruler to mark off his next first down.
--10. Maybe Chicago should hire ESPN's Herm Edwards to remind coach Marc Trestman that "YOU PLAY THE GAME TO WIN THE GAME!!!" Trestman didn't, going conservative when the Bears moved into field-goal position and treating a 47-yard field goal as a gimme. It wasn't ... as he knows now.
--11. Immediately after the Giants tied Washington at 14 on Sunday night, NBC's Cris Collinsworth gushed that "we might end up with our best game of the year here." Uh, what? I guess he forgot he was there a week ago when New England rallied from a 24-point halftime deficit to overcome Denver in overtime.
--12. The more Geno Smith plays, the better Mark Sanchez looks. No wonder the Jets want Fireman Ed back. They're losing fans faster than they're losing games.
--13. Yes, Baltimore is peaking at the right time, and the Ravens know the playoff drill -- never missing the postseason in John Harbaugh's five years there. But look what's ahead: Three of their last four opponents are division leaders (Detroit, New England and Cincinnati), and only the Patriots are home.
--14. So Indianapolis wins the AFC South. The Colts will not win a playoff game ... not the way they're playing now. Yes, they beat Seattle, Denver and San Francisco, but they don't have a quality victory since an Oct. 20 upset of the Broncos ... a game where they lost wide receiver Reggie Wayne. They haven't been the same since.
--15. Here's why Colts fans should be concerned: In his last four games, Andrew Luck has two touchdown passes, five interceptions and no passer rating higher than 82.2. His offensive line can't protect him (he was sacked five times Sunday), and he has no go-to receiver. If that sounds like a blueprint for disaster, it's only because it is.
--16. Best move never made: Cleveland's trade of wide receiver Josh Gordon. There was plenty of interest, but the Browns resisted the temptation. Good thing.
--17. When the New York Jets traded up to take Stephen Hill in the 2012 draft, they left another wide receiver on the board: South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery. The Bears chose him two picks later. Game, set and match, Chicago.
--18. Shame on San Diego. Four of the Bolts' last five games are home, which gave them a real chance to sneak in as the sixth AFC playoff entry ... if, that is, they could take advantage of the opportunity. Consider Sunday's loss to Cincinnati another in a non-stop series of pratfalls to a club that deserves better.
--19. Yes, there's a reason to watch this week's Houston-Jacksonville game: The first pick in the 2014 draft. If the season were to end today, it belongs to Houston, but stay tuned.
--20. I'll tell you why I like Philadelphia, not Dallas, to win the NFC East: Tony Romo. The guy's 11-15 this month and 12-16 after Dec. 1, period.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
--1. The Jets' John Idzik goes to the back of the class as a rookie GM. Idzik took cornerback Dee Milliner with his first draft pick and quarterback Geno Smith with his third. Both stink, and both were benched Sunday. Maybe they turn into decent players someday, but the early returns aren't encouraging. John Idzik, please sit down.
--2. Bill Belichick won't tolerate fumblers. That's not exactly news, but I like what he did with Stevan Ridley after he suffered his fourth lost fumble last weekend. He sat him down ... for good. Then he made him inactive Sunday, with Ridley standing on the sideline while clutching a football under his arm. Maybe that gets the message across. Something better.
--3. Houston needs better second-half plans. The Texans have led at halftime in four of their last five games ... yet lost all five. Apparently, somebody missed roll-call when they passed out second-half adjustments. "I'm very suspicious," Houston's Antonio Smith said. "Either teams are spying on us or (they're) scouting us." Or maybe Houston just stinks.
--4. Green Bay is toast without Aaron Rodgers. With him, they're the best team in their division; without him, they can't win.
--5. Buffalo can blow games in two countries. Yep, the Bills botched another near-win, this time fumbling away a possible victory at the end of the fourth quarter, then again in OT. No wonder coach Doug Marrone said he was "hurting" and "mad." He should have won. He didn't. Sound familiar?
JUST ASKING BUT ...
--What in the world, Marc Trestman?
--Do we see Aaron Rodgers again this season?
--What's wrong with Justin Tuck again?
--Since when did it become OK to field punts inside the 5?
--When does Nick Foles make a mistake?
FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO
--1. St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher. It's fourth-and-8 at his own 22, he's down by 10 early in the fourth quarter and he tries ... what? A fake punt? You gotta be kidding.
--2. Minnesota special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. It's a tie score, 20 seconds are left in the fourth quarter and the Vikings are kicking off. So what must you absolutely, positively NOT do? Yep, kick it to Devin Hester, which is exactly what the Vikings did. He returned it to the 50, setting up Chicago for a potential game-winning field goal attempt. Lucky for Priefer, the Bears didn't make it.
--3. Tennessee linebacker Moise Foiku. It was his personal foul that extended the first half, giving Indianapolis a play it should not have had. With the extra snap, the Colts produced an Adam Vinatieri field goal it also shouldn't have had, and that's why the Titans are what they are.
--4. Referee Jeff Triplette. Repeat after me: Four does not follow one, four does not follow one, four does not ... I think you get the idea. What is it about the Redskins and officials? First, they call them names. Now, they can't count. Shanahan should be steamed. Triplette's crew didn't cost him the game, but it sure screwed up Washington's last series. NBC's Collinsworth is right; that can't be tolerated. The next guy we should hear from is Dean Blandino, the league's head of officiating.
--5. Minnesota tight end Rhett Ellison. A stupid facemask foul negated Blair Walsh's first game-winning field goal, a 37-yarder that should've sent everyone home early in OT. Ellison would've had some tough questions to answer afterward had the Vikings lost; instead, it's the Bears' Trestman who sat in the dentist's chair.
NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--0 -- Chiefs' sacks of Peyton Manning in two games
--0 -- New England penalties vs. Houston
--1-5 -- Buffalo in Toronto
--2 -- Jets' first-half first downs
--4-0 -- Andrew Luck's record vs. Tennessee
--4 -- Justin Tuck sacks
--6-3 -- New England in games decided by seven or fewer points
--8 -- Peyton Manning games with at least five touchdown passes
--10 -- Cam Newton games with at least two passing touchdowns and one rushing score
--10-0 -- Peyton Manning vs. the AFC West since joining Denver
--20 -- New York Jets' points the past three games
--43 -- Combined turnovers this season between Geno Smith and Eli Manning
--1989 -- Last time Philadelphia had three TD catches by tight ends in one game
NEXT WEEKEND'S FOUR BEST GAMES
--Indianapolis @ Cincinnati
--Carolina @ New Orleans
--Detroit @ Philadelphia
--Seattle @ San Francisco
--Dallas @ Chicago
-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.