KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:30 ET
TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber
SERIES: 33rd meeting. The Broncos lead the series, 20-11-1, and have won two of the three playoff games. Denver hasn't played the Tennessee franchise since it was the Houston Oilers. The last meeting between the teams was in 1995.
2004 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 5th (6th rush, 8th pass); defense 7th (9th rush, 10th pass). Titans: offense 8th (11th rush, 9th pass); defense 21st (16th rush, 21st pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Yes, QB Jake Plummer has struggled for the past month. But the Broncos' problems in the secondary are just as concerning with the Titans QB Billy Volek having thrown for a combined 918 yards the past two games. CB Champ Bailey continues to struggle with allowing big plays and the Broncos' depth has been hurt by injuries. Fortunately for Denver, it might only have to stop Tennessee a handful of times to win. The Titans have allowed an average of 29.5 points during their four-game losing streak and their secondary has been ravaged by injuries. The key for the Broncos, as usual, will be avoiding turnovers - not only from Plummer but from RBs Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell who have struggled with fumbles in recent games.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Plummer's 84.9 passer rating is the best in franchise history among quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts. ... Have allowed 48 fourth quarter points, the second fewest in the NFL. Titans: Volek is only the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 400 yards in consecutive games. Volek's 2,305 passing yards in his first seven career starts is an NFL record.
PREDICTION: Broncos 31-23
--DE Trevor Pryce has a chance to play on Saturday. He practiced all week, and has practiced for three weeks now. Pryce had back surgery on Sept. 22 and hasn't played in a game since Week 1.
--FB Kyle Johnson most likely won't play on Saturday. He has a sprained ankle and hasn't practiced all week. Tight ends Patrick Hape and Dwayne Carswell will have to line up more often than normal as fullbacks.
--TE Jeb Putzier is Denver's only tight end who has been a legitimate threat in the passing game lately. Putzier only has seven catches in Denver's past four games, but Dwayne Carswell and Patrick Hape have only three catches for 15 yards in that time, and all three catches were by Carswell.
--S Kenoy Kennedy didn't make the Pro Bowl, but teammates thought he deserved it. Kennedy had his best all-around season as a pro this year. He has been known as a big hitter, but has been a sure tackler and good in coverage all season.
--CB Roc Alexander played well as Denver's nickel cornerback against Kansas City. But the Chiefs didn't test him that much, something the Titans might do more of on Saturday. Alexander, who was undrafted, has been a major surprise for the Broncos this season.
--QB Steve McNair (bruised sternum) will not play Saturday against Denver.
--QB Billy Volek might wind up throwing quite a bit against Denver, but the Titans will make much more of an effort to establish the run game this week than they did against Kansas City and Oakland, since those two teams are so bad in pass defense.
--RB Chris Brown (turf toe) will not play against Denver.
--RB Antowain Smith will start against Denver Saturday on what's expected to be an especially cold night in Nashville. He has great experience in bad weather games having played Buffalo and New England and the Titans will work hard to get the run game going.
--C Justin Hartwig is unlikely to start because he still had limited feeling in the surgically repaired ring finger on his right hand. Look for him to back up all three interior positions with rookie Eugene Amano starting at center for the second week in a row.
--WR Derrick Mason is still bothered by a bad ankle but will play. He's expected to draw the Broncos top cornerback, Champ Bailey.
--WR Drew Bennett will get the most attention he's even drawn after catching eight touchdown passes in the last three weeks.
--TE Erron Kinney (ankle) is still having trouble getting around. He'll dress unlikely to play, and if he does he'll stay close to the line of scrimmage. Shad Meier and Ben Troupe will get more looks in the passing game than usual.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Denver Broncos aren't exactly excited about playing on Christmas night.
Denver will be one of two teams playing on the road on Saturday. The players will be away from their families from Friday afternoon when the team flies to Tennessee to early Sunday morning when they return. The Broncos will have a team Christmas dinner on Friday.
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said it was the first time he can remember playing a game on Christmas.
"I don't think we should be playing," Bailey said. "But if I was home and not playing football, I'd want to see a game. I guess we're the ones doing the entertaining this year.
"TV pays us a lot of money to do this, so we have to do it."
Most of the players have said they're not happy about playing on Christmas, but it is part of their job.
"You don't get a chance to really celebrate the holidays when you are playing in the NFL," quarterback Jake Plummer said. "It might fall on a day where you get half the day off, but that's just part of the business.
"The one thing is everyone is going to get a chance to see you play."
Some Titans say Denver running back Reuben Droughns reminds them of Corey Dillon, a back they used to see regularly with Cincinnati.
"He's a bigger back and once he's up the field he can take it the distance," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "He's looking to run defenders over a la Corey Dillon."
Droughns had six games in a seven game span this season where he topped 100 yards, with a breakout game against Carolina on Oct. 10. He shredded the Panthers for 193 yards on 30 carries.
The Broncos have consistently rated as one of the league's best running teams under Mike Shanahan, with a long list of backs faring well in the system.
"He's real heavy," Fisher said. "TD was not as heavy, he was fast and explosive, and Portis was real quick. Droughns is a powerful runner, one plant and he's real and south."
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