Denver Broncos (3-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 94th meeting. Chiefs lead series, 52-41. Broncos are 12-34 on the road in the series. The Broncos have the biggest win in the series history, a win in a divisional playoff game at the end of the 1997 season. That sprung Denver to the AFC Championship Game, and the Broncos went on to win Super Bowl XXXII.
PREDICTION: Broncos 16-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos expect QB Jay Cutler to be in the lineup, but his mobility could be limited, taking away some of the bootlegs and pass plays outside the pocket he is most effective on. Mobility is an even bigger concern facing a tough Chiefs pass rush. RBs Travis Henry and Selvin Young have to show up big. ... With a healthy Larry Johnson, the Chiefs would have had their way with the Broncos' league-worst run defense (161.5 yards per game). But with L.J. out, Priest Holmes and rookie Kolby Smith will shoulder the load. That puts increased pressure on QB Damon Huard, who is on a short leash with coach Herm Edwards considering a switch to Brodie Croyle.
Cutler (lower left leg) is practicing and should play along with Henry (knee); S John Lynch (neck stinger) hopes to return after missing a game; WR Javon Walker (knee) is out at least one more game.
Johnson (foot) is out indefinitely; WR Eddie Kennison (hamstring) is expected to play; WR Dwayne Bowe (hamstring) is back practicing.
FAST FACTS: Chiefs rookie WR Dwayne Bowe leads all NFL rookies with 499 receiving yards.
--RB Travis Henry missed practice for the second straight day. He has a knee injury, but the Broncos still think he could practice Friday and play this week. If he doesn't practice Friday, his status for Sunday's game would be in doubt.
--RB Selvin Young would start against Kansas City if Henry can't play. Young had 71 yards on 18 carries in his first start, when Henry was out against Green Bay.
--DE John Engelberger, who has a shoulder injury, returned to practice on Thursday. He could be able to play this week.
--S John Lynch practiced again Thursday. He was still feeling some effects of a stinger injury he suffered two weeks ago but has made progress. However, the Broncos will be cautious in his return.
--S Hamza Abdullah could continue to play in some defensive packages for the Broncos. He was slowed by a hip injury earlier this season but played on passing downs against Detroit. The Broncos like his potential.
--RB Larry Johnson will not play against Denver, but that's about all that's known of his long-term status. The Chiefs will neither confirm nor deny a report out of Denver saying Johnson has a broken foot and won't play again this season. The team said Thursday only that swelling in Johnson's injured right foot has been reduced and the team will re-evaluate his injury next week.
--LT Damion McIntosh missed a second day of practice Thursday with a tonsil problem, but the Chiefs continue to believe he'll be available for Sunday's game with Denver.
--T Kyle Turley took practice reps at both left and right tackle this week. Turley, who hasn't played in the past four weeks after injuring an ankle, worked at right tackle Wednesday when Chris Terry missed practice with a family problem, then worked at left tackle Thursday when Damion McIntosh missed a second day of practice with a tonsil problem.
--RB Kolby Smith likely will see his most extensive action as a rookie against Denver. Smith has yet to have a carry as the No. 3 running back, but has caught two passes for 21 yards. But with Larry Johnson down, likely for at least several weeks, Smith offers a young-legs alternative to 34-year-old Priest Holmes.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Denver Broncos receiver Rod Smith wouldn't address his future when he spoke to the media for the first time since this season's comeback attempt ended.
"As far as next year, I'm not worried about it," said Smith, who spoke for a little more than two minutes and didn't answer questions. "I want to get through this football season and actually get comfortable with my body. I still have discomfort in my hip. So I really want to get comfortable with my body and be able to, if nothing else, live a normal life whether I play football again or not."
Smith had hip surgery in February. He admitted that he should have taken 12 months to recover, but he tried to come back a couple of weeks ago. After a few practices, the Broncos said he wasn't ready and would miss the rest of the season.
"It was a grind and I was basically tearing my body up trying to do it," Smith said. Smith will be an unofficial coach the rest of the season. He said he will be at all the practices and games, offering whatever insight he can to help the Broncos, who are 3-5 this season.
"I can interpret defenses and things like that for our players and let them know about winning football," Smith said. "Somehow we've lost sight of how to go out there and collectively win as a group."
Two years away from running the ball have done little to diminish the confidence of Priest Holmes.
The one-time main component of a potent Chiefs offense, and still the team's career rushing leader, Holmes likely will get the most extensive duty since his return to the field in Sunday's home game against Denver. With starting running back Larry Johnson out of action with a major foot injury, Holmes will make his first start since the Oct. 30, 2005 game in San Diego when he incurred the head and neck injury that nearly ended his career.
No way, most people think, can the 34-year-old Holmes be the same kind of runner he was before the injury that put him down for two years. But Holmes has come back so many times when people have written him off that you have to ask:
Does he have one more left?
"I don't see why not," Holmes said this week. "I don't know if I have necessarily changed to anyone who is watching the game, but to anyone actually inside of the chalk it will be different," he added in classic Priest Holmes doublespeak. "No one player can look at you and pinpoint exactly what you are if they haven't seen you in two years. That's really difficult."
The Chiefs weren't getting much from their running game with Johnson (only 79.5 yards a game), so the expectations can't be high with a combination of Holmes and rookie Kolby Smith splitting the work load. Even so, Holmes says to be ready for anything when he returns to the starter's spot for however long Johnson is out.
"Much like any situation I've ever been in, I make people look good. I really do," he said.
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