Denver Broncos (10-3) at Buffalo Bills (4-9) ================================
KICKOFF: Saturday, 5:00 ET
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Sterling Sharpe
SERIES: 32nd meeting. The Buffalo Bills lead the series against the Denver Broncos 17-13-1. The Bills also won the only playoff meeting. Buffalo beat Denver 10-7 in the AFC championship game at the end of the 1991 season. Denver has won the last three meetings, including a 28-23 win in 2002.
2005 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 6th (2nd rush, 18th pass); defense 23rd (2nd rush, 29th pass). Bills: offense 30th (19th rush, 29th pass); defense 28th (31st rush, 19th pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 20-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams are accustomed to playing in freezing temperatures -- it's expected to be in the high 20's Saturday night with some snow showers -- but Denver's offense is better equipped to handle the conditions. The Broncos have three running backs they can throw at the Bills' porous run defense in an attempt to set up play-action for QB Jake Plummer. Buffalo can't afford to get hammered in time of possession, which puts the onus on RB Willis McGahee to move the chains. The problem is the Broncos own the league's No. 2 run defense while the Bills' offensive line continues to struggle. Veteran QB Kelly Holcomb will start in place of ailing J.P. Losman. The one advantage he will have is WR Eric Moulds returning from a one-game suspension to team with Lee Evans in attacking a secondary that gave up 241.5 passing yards even before rookie starting CB Darrent Williams was injured.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: CB Champ Bailey has a career-high eight interceptions. ... WR Rod Smith needs 79 receiving yards to pass Stanley Morgan (10,716) for the 17th-most all-time. Bills: Evans is tied for the league lead with six receptions of at least 40 yards. ... McGahee became the fastest player in franchise history to reach 2,000 career rushing yards, doing it in 26 games.
Broncos: --DE Courtney Brown practiced on Wednesday and Thursday with no problems after missing practice Tuesday with a sore knee. Brown is expected to play against Buffalo.
--T Cornell Green is listed as questionable with a separated shoulder, but he practiced all week. He should be available for this week's game.
--CB Curome Cox is taking over as Denver's nickel cornerback as long as Darrent Williams is out with a groin injury. Cox shouldn't have any assignment problems. He studies hard and knows the defense well for a player who doesn't have much experience.
--DT Gerard Warren will be a free agent at the end of the season. He said he hopes to work out a deal with the Broncos. He has enjoyed his first season in Denver. He has often praised coach Mike Shanahan and has rejuvenated his career after underachieving in Cleveland.
--CB Champ Bailey has eight interceptions this season, a career high. But his chances of getting his ninth interception this week probably went down when Kelly Holcomb was named Buffalo's starter. J.P. Losman, who is injured, is more prone to mistakes than the veteran Holcomb.
--QB Kelly Holcomb will start his sixth game of the year for the Bills Saturday night against Cleveland, replacing an injured J.P. Losman. The Broncos are well suited to handle Holcomb's hard-count cadence. Four defenders played with Holcomb in Cleveland: Courtney Brown, Michael Myers, Gerard Warren and Ebenezer Ekuban.
--DT Lauvale Sape won't play Saturday against the Denver Broncos due to a bad ankle sprain. That leaves the Bills a man short against Denver's powerful running game. Backup Jason Jefferson is likely to be activated.
--DT LaWaylon Brown, a free agent who was cut during training camp, was signed to Buffalo's practice squad.
--DE Constantin Ritzmann, who made the 53-man roster coming out of training camp in 2004, has been cut from the practice squad.
--G Mike Williams attempted to practice Thursday in hopes he would be available for Saturday night's game against Denver. He is battling a chest muscle injury that has sidelined him for two games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Broncos: In the past three weeks, the Denver Broncos' running game hasn't disappeared, but it hasn't been the same either.
Denver is averaging about 45 fewer yards per game the past three weeks than it did in the first 10 weeks. The low point for the running game came against Baltimore.
"Coach told us that was our worst game," Broncos running back Tatum Bell said. "We had 32 carries for 90-something yards (96). We have to find ways to make plays."
Broncos starter Mike Anderson has had an especially tough time in recent weeks. Anderson has averaged less than 3 yards per carry for three straight games.
Anderson said his confidence hasn't changed through his slump.
"I'm not shook," Anderson said.
Anderson got eight carries last week against Baltimore, and backup Bell got 16. Anderson said he didn't see that as a shift in the structure of the Broncos' rotation. Anderson said he didn't think Bell would take more of his carries as the team moves forward.
"No, I don't," Anderson said. "I don't."
Bills: Calm and cool veteran quarterback Kelly Holcomb reacted to his return to the starting lineup in typical fashion.
"You have to be prepared every week, and that's what it is this week," he said. "J.P. got injured, and it's my job to step in."
Holcomb will replace J.P. Losman in Saturday's night's home finale against Denver. Losman suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday's 35-7 loss to New England. The injury isn't serious, but with the shortened work week, the coaches feel better about Holcomb starting the game.
While Buffalo (4-9) has nothing but pride on the line, it could use a good showing on national TV because of the tenuous job status of coach Mike Mularkey and president and general manager Tom Donahoe. Holcomb's experience, particularly in cold conditions, will no doubt benefit the Bills, who managed just eight first downs under Losman last week.
"We need to go out and do some good things," said Holcomb, who started five games earlier this season before suffering a concussion against Kansas City and losing the job back to Losman. "We haven't played well the last couple of weeks. Offensively, we need to get some things going. We need to get into a groove and be consistent. Up until this point we haven't been consistent, but we've got three games left, and it starts this Saturday night."
The Broncos (10-3), who are closing in on a playoff spot, made it no secret they would prefer playing the younger quarterback verses the veteran.
Four Denver defenders played with Holcomb in Cleveland: Courtney Brown, Michael Myers, Gerard Warren and Ebenezer Ekuban.
"I'd rather face Losman any day," Ekuban said. "A young quarterback is going to make more mistakes than a veteran, savvy quarterback. Even though (Losman) can run, I'd still rather face him. And Kelly Holcomb, he loves the hard count, man. He can hard count with the best of them. That's going to be a big part of their game plan, you can believe that."
Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board