"This is a big one," said quarterback Jake Plummer, who is still looking to regain his top form since being injured in the first meeting with Kansas City.
If the Broncos play at the same level they did on Oct. 5, they know they won't win this one either.
"The Chiefs are 40 percent better," defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said of KC's high-powered offense.
A few minutes later he suggested they were 50 percent better. Whatever the number, there's no question Denver's offense -- particularly the passing game -- will need to play better to keep up with the high-flying Chiefs.
It starts with Plummer, who has passed for just 281 yards combined in the last two games, and leads a passing attack ranked just 27th in the NFL -- the lowest in franchise history.
"He's got to raise his level of play this last month as we all do if we plan on playing some more," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "That's the pressure we all face."
Plummer admitted as much.
"Obviously Clinton (Portis) is running the ball well...and we need him down the stretch. But we also need me and the line and the receivers to start making some plays to complement that. If we can do that, we'll be a complete package," he said.
Tight end Shannon Sharpe expressed confidence that Plummer is capable of carrying more of the load if called upon.
"I think Jake has shown that if he needs to throw the ball 30 times he can do it with great success," Sharpe said. "But the conditions have to be right."
Plummer did it against Detroit (25 of 34 for 277 yards, with two TDs) when the Broncos were without Portis. And he put up good numbers against the Chiefs (20 of 38 for 220 yards, with one TD), though the Broncos lost by a point.
SERIES HISTORY:87th meeting. Chiefs hold 49-37 advantage. Denver is 25-18 at home, including last year's 31-24 win. Chiefs won a thriller at Arrowhead in Week 5, when Dante Hall broke a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown to win the game.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--While some coaches are worrying about their jobs, don't expect the same from Mike Shanahan, even if the Broncos fail to make the playoffs. Owner Pat Bowlen reiterated that he still thinks Shanahan is the best coach in the game.
--The Broncos have set their sights on a 10-win season, but even that may not be enough to get them in the playoffs. If the playoffs were to start right now, Denver would be on the outside looking in.
The two wild cards would be Miami and Tennessee. But if the Dolphins lose one more and the Broncos win out, Denver gets the tiebreaker by virtue of a better conference record. And the Dolphins play a tough December schedule with games against New England, Philadelphia, Buffalo and the New York Jets.
But so do the Broncos, who after home games against KC and Cleveland, go on the road in Indianapolis and Green Bay. The Broncos are 0-7 in their last seven December road games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 262 -- return yards by the Chiefs in the first meeting this year.
552 -- Yards rushing by Clinton Portis in last four games. He has 1,234 on the season.
29 -- Where Denver's pass attack ranks in the NFL, with Jake Plummer falling to seventh in the AFC after a 105-yard one-TD, one INT effort vs. Oakland.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're all important now. We kind of backed ourselves into a corner, and we realize how important a win is. We're plying I think the bests football team. You are what your record says you are and they're 11-1." -- TE Shannon Sharpe on the Chiefs.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos are deciding whether to put wide receiver/kick returner Chris Cole on injured reserve but coach Mike Shanahan said he would wait until later in the week to see how he feels.
GAME PLAN: Mike Shanahan insists his strategy won't change against dangerous return man Dante Hall, at least so he says. But Denver's coverage units have been average at best, and the tackling suspect, so one mistake here could mean the difference between winning and losing -- again. The Broncos no doubt will try to run the ball 30-plus times, and set up play-action off it. Look for the Chiefs to bring some blitzes and try to keep QB Jake Plummer contained as Oakland did.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos P Micah Knorr vs. Chiefs return man Dante Hall. Hall burned the Broncos with a 93-yard return last time, and the Broncos will be missing some key players on their special teams this week. Knorr has struggled in recent weeks, but he'll have to be on Sunday. The question is whether he can directional kick, and keep the ball away from Hall.
--Chiefs RB Priest Holmes vs. Broncos LB corps. Holmes has 17 rushing TDs, and a 4.7-yard average. He managed 97 yards on only 15 carries in the first meeting. Denver is missing two starters in Ian Gold and John Mobley, and Al Wilson has been bothered by neck stingers. Last week the Broncos allowed Tyrone Wheatley to average 10.6 yards a carry. The problem was Oakland went away from the run. Look for KC to keep Holmes involved the entire game.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Chris Cole is definitely out which means Reuben Droughns will handle kickoff returns.
--WR Deltha O'Neal missed Wednesday's practice to be with his ill father but was expected back. Though Shanahan said O'Neal's involvement in the game plan would increase, that remains to be seen.