KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:00 ET
TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth
SERIES: 93rd meeting. The Chiefs lead the series 51-41 over the Broncos. The Broncos beat Kansas City 9-6 in overtime earlier this season at Denver, which was the Chiefs' first game without quarterback Trent Green. The Broncos haven't swept the Chiefs since 2002.
2006 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 20th (3rd rush, 27th pass); defense 14th (5th rush, 24th pass). Chiefs: offense 17th (10th rush, 21st pass); defense 13th (16th rush, 12th pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 16-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: With QB Trent Green making just his second start since returning from a Week 1 concussion and the uncertain status of TE Tony Gonzalez and LG Brian Edwards, expect another conservative game plan from the Chiefs. Green completed just nine passes last Sunday while Kansas City featured formations with three tackles and blocking TE Jason Dunn. RB Larry Johnson produced 167 total yards in a season-opening loss in Denver, and will be leaned on heavily again as the Chiefs' receivers typically struggle to gain separation against the Broncos' solid cover men. With RB Tatum Bell (toes) day-to-day, the Broncos could need another solid effort out of youngsters Mike Bell and Damien Nash. They also need QB Jake Plummer to rebound from an unever effort against San Diego. The Chiefs produced just one sack against Oakland's poor offensive line, but will certainly look to test Broncos first-year starting LT Erik Pears.
FAST FACTS: First NFL game broadcast live on NFL Network. Broncos: Have a four-game road winning streak. ... Are 12-33 on the road in the series. ... Seek 11th sweep of the season series. Chiefs: Johnson is on pace for 397 carries this season, which would shatter Christian Okoye's franchise record of 370 set in 1989. ... Have won 21 consecutive home games when holding the opponent to 21 points or less.
--The Broncos lost safety Nick Ferguson for the season because of a medial meniscus tear in his knee. Ferguson injured his knee in the first quarter of Sunday's game against San Diego but missed only a few plays.
"It doesn't surprise me a bit," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "He's a tough guy."
Curome Cox will replace Ferguson in the starting lineup. Coyer has faith in Cox, who started one game when the Broncos opened up in a five defensive back lineup last year against Philadelphia.
"I have no reservations. None," Coyer said. "He's started for us. He's played for us. It's not like we're putting a raw-butt rookie in there. He's played for us and we have complete faith."
--Quarterback Jake Plummer said he is not worried about more speculation and criticism after a poor game against San Diego last week. He said he has looked at extra film and said he needs to make better reads.
"Just making decisions, making the right decisions," Plummer said. "There were a couple times where we had a play set up that the (defensive) look isn't how we looked at it in practice, and making the right decision and making sure I get a completion."
--S Hamza Abdullah is Denver's top backup at safety after Nick Ferguson's injury bumped Curome Cox up the depth chart. Abdullah has played in six career games, all on special teams.
--WR David Kircus could play a lot against Kansas City if Brandon Marshall is limited because of an ankle injury. Marshall and Kircus split time as Denver's third receiver behind Javon Walker and Rod Smith.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban has played on Thanksgiving five times, the most on the Broncos along with Michael Myers. Myers and Ekuban were teammates in Dallas.
--RB Cedric Cobbs has fallen back on the depth chart. He had a strong preseason but suffered an ankle injury early in the season. He's fourth on the depth chart at tailback.
--FB Cecil Sapp was used on kickoff returns last week because he has good running skills. Sapp was an outstanding college tailback at Colorado State, and he is effective on dive plays from the fullback position.
--With TE Tony Gonzalez out last week with a sprained shoulder and backup tight end Kris Wilson starting at fullback, the Chiefs pressed OT Kyle Turley into tight-end duty.
Turley caught no passes and never even ran a pass pattern, but said he was plenty capable of doing so.
"I would hope I could catch a football," he said. "It's not hard."
After leaving football for two years because of a back injury, Turley, who lost about 70 pounds during that time, attempted a return as a tight end, working out at the position with the Miami Dolphins before Kansas City signed him as a tackle, his original position.
--RB Larry Johnson took the NFL rushing lead last week with 1,045 yards, passing Tiki Barber and LaDainian Tomlinson. Johnson now leads Frank Gore by two yards. Johnson joined Priest Holmes as the only Chiefs running backs to achieve back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
--LB Keyaron Fox had 11 tackles (nine solo) against Oakland last week, both career highs.
--WR Samie Parker had his season high in receptions the last time he faced Denver, catching five passes for 37 yards.
--TE Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs' leading receiver is 30th in the NFL in receptions with 44.
v --LB Kawika Mitchell has taken over the team lead in tackles with 72, surpassing Derrick Johnson's 54. Johnson has missed the last two games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Denver Broncos special teams are coming apart at an inopportune time.
The Broncos go to Kansas City to play a Thanksgiving night game. Chiefs returner Dante Hall has had some big games against Denver in the past and he could have another if Denver can't figure out what is wrong with their kick coverage.
The Broncos have been bad on kickoff coverage all year and rank 31st in the NFL. Sunday night was the low point of the season. Chargers returner Michael Turner had many big kickoff returns. Turner averaged 36.5 yards, including two 40-yard returns that set up touchdowns in the second half.
"The most disappointing thing is we've faced better returners," said Broncos linebacker Keith Burns, Denver's special-teams captain. "No offense to Michael Turner, just a mere fact he's a typical running back who is returning the ball. To give up that kind of yardage against a returner like that baffles me."
The Broncos have struggled all season covering kicks. They are 31st in the NFL in kickoff return average allowed.
The Broncos play a few starters on special teams and have other players covering kicks who were high draft picks. Burns said the players weren't the problem.
"It's not about personnel. It's all about want-to," Burns said. "If you want to get the job done, you'll get it done. You've got some guys out there that, for whatever reason, felt they were doing their job but if you go back and look at film, you have to be where you're supposed to be at, bottom line."
The Broncos' special teams took another hit when safety Nick Ferguson, a defensive starter but also a special-teams contributor, had knee surgery on Tuesday morning. He is out for the rest of the season. He was put on injured reserve and Denver signed former Cardinals safety Quentin Harris.
Denver had a few injuries during Sunday's game, which affected their coverage. Cornerback Darrent Williams, Ferguson and rookie receiver Brandon Marshall were among the players to miss some time on special teams.
"It just takes one or two guys here and there," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I kind of forgot about the injuries during the game but we still have to be better."
Shanahan didn't address whether he would use more starters on special teams in the upcoming weeks to address the matter. He said the execution has to improve and the coaching has to be better, but somehow the Broncos need to find answers.
"I don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to have to do something to be more productive than we've been," Shanahan said.
The Chiefs season, it seems, has completed a circle.
Week 1, Trent Green leaves the game with a severe concussion and the Chiefs slash their playbook to keep backup Damon Huard from killing them. They lose 9-6 to Denver in Huard's first start. Turned out, Huard was plenty capable and, after a few weeks passed, the Chiefs were basically playing the way everybody expected them to before the season.
Now, Green is back and, shock of all shocks, he attempted just 16 passes in his return game. Thursday's matchup with Denver looks like another land battle.
Or does it?
"I don't think field goals - my favorite deal - will work this week," Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. "Obviously, it'll be a little bit different for us. We're playing at home."
The game locale has been the most accurate predictor of Chiefs' game plans this season. At home, they'll open it up. On the road, they try to hang around and hope for a big play at the end.
But like Sunday's win over Oakland when the Chiefs ran 70 percent of the time, the Thanksgiving Day game at Arrowhead Stadium is complicated by key injuries. The Chiefs' best weapon in the passing game, Tony Gonzalez, might miss a second consecutive game with a sprained shoulder. And Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters' knee injury could keep him out. Without both of those players Sunday, the Chiefs passed only out of sheer necessity.
"Some of it was to get Trent going and not to put it all on his shoulders," Edwards said. "Really, it was to get the running game going again because we kind of lost sight of that last week, I thought. We went into the game feeling we had some runs we could achieve and get some yards. Then we got going on the one drive and kept running. There's nothing wrong with that."
As long as it works, there is no reason to believe Kansas City will take to the air more on Thursday. If Gonzalez can't play, the Chiefs' best chance in the passing game is to use play action.
Just like Sunday. Just like Edwards wants it.
"When you take a guy like (Gonzalez) out of your offense it's a little tougher," Edwards said. "But for the most part we were able to run the ball well. It helped our play action, it helped us really take advantage of situations when we had to throw the ball."
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