Kansas City Chiefs (4-8) at Denver Broncos (5-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 95th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead 52-42 in the regular season, but Denver has the one postseason victory. The Broncos have won nine of the past 11 meetings in Denver, and they took the first game of this year's series 27-11 in Kansas City.
PREDICTION: Broncos 23-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: The good news for the beat-up Chiefs is it appears QB Brodie Croyle has recovered enough from his back injury to play. Then again, no Chiefs quarterback has won his first start at Denver since Billy Kenney in 1982. Croyle will likely have limited mobility, making it critical for rookie RB Kolby Smith to attack the Broncos' poor run defense allowing 149.1 yards per game.
Forced hand: The Broncos are beat up at running back, which could force a larger load on QB Jay Cutler. The problem is he could be without WR Brandon Stokley and Javon Walker still isn't 100 percent. Look for TE Tony Scheffler to be heavily involved in the passing game.
KEY INJURIES: Chiefs: RB Larry Johnson (foot) remains out; Edwards (hamstring) and LT Damion McIntosh (knee) are questionable; LB Derrick Johnson (death of father) is uncertain. Broncos: Stokley (knee) doesn't know if he'll be ready to play; RB Travis Henry (knee) said he is about 80 percent; Young (arm/knee) will play.
FAST FACTS: Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez's 22 100-yard receiving games is tied with Jackie Smith for second most in NFL history among tight ends. ... Cutler has a 109.8 passer rating with six TDs and two INTs in his past three home games.
--LB Derrick Johnson, who left the team Tuesday night upon the sudden death of his father, has told coach Herm Edwards he wants to play Sunday in Denver, and that it is important for him at this sad time in his life to do so. Johnson hasn't practiced this week, and his availability likely will be determined Saturday when he joins the team in Denver.
--LB Donnie Edwards missed a second day of practice Thursday with a strained hamstring. His status likely will be a game-day decision in Denver.
--LT Damion McIntosh did not work again Thursday after reinjuring the right knee that knocked him out of several weeks of training camp earlier. McIntosh's status likely won't be decided until Sunday.
--T Will Svitek likely would start for LT Damion McIntosh if his injured right knee keeps him out of the Denver game. Svitek replaced McIntosh after he went down in the fourth quarter last week against San Diego and was beaten for a couple of sacks.
--QB Tyler Thigpen, a rookie and the Chiefs' third-team quarterback who saw his first NFL action against San Diego last week, was scheduled to be placed on injured reserve after he injured a knee in a freak play during Wednesday's practice.
--QB David Greene, who had a successful college career while quarterbacking Georgia, will be elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster as a replacement for injured third-string QB Tyler Thigpen.
--LB Kendrell Bell, who has been inactive the last two weeks after playing sparingly all season, likely will start at the strong-side LB position if Derrick Johnson is unable to play against Denver following the sudden death of his father this week.
--LB Keyaron Fox, still looking for his first tackle this year after being inactive for five games (hamstring) likely will start for Donnie Edwards if Edwards' hamstring prevents him from playing against the Broncos.
--WR Brandon Stokley didn't practice for the second straight day. He has a knee injury. The Broncos will see if he can practice Friday, then hopefully have a better idea on his availability for Sunday's game.
--WR Javon Walker was limited in practice Thursday, a day after he had a full practice Wednesday. Walker is still sore after dealing with a knee injury. If Brandon Stokley can't go, Walker would be in line for more playing time if he's healthy.
--RB Travis Henry practiced for the second straight day and he will be ready to play Sunday. He probably will split time with Selvin Young.
--S Nick Ferguson is closer to doubtful than questionable for this week, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. However, Ferguson's injured knee felt better Thursday, which is why the Broncos didn't rule him out.
--WR Glenn Martinez missed last week's game with a sprained ankle, but has practiced all week and should be able to play. He could see a lot of playing time on offense, based on the health of Brandon Stokley and Javon Walker, and he will return punts.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Didn't Brodie Croyle's mother ever teach him not to go out in the snow without proper protection?
Probably not, when you consider that before he spent his rookie season in Kansas City last year, Alabama-boy Croyle hadn't so much as seen snow since he was eight years old. He may well be playing in it this week when the Chiefs go limping into Denver with a five-game losing streak.
Croyle, who missed last week's loss to the Chargers with a sore back, has been cleared to play after going through two full practices Wednesday and Thursday. But while he may be all right going into the game, how he comes out of it will be the most interesting question.
It won't be like the Chiefs' pass protection unit -- leaky on its best day -- will be Hoover Dam against the Broncos rush.
Veteran tackles Kyle Turley and Damion McIntosh were ailing and unable to practice again Thursday. Right tackle Chris Terry returned to practice Thursday after spending most of the previous week with family after the death of his mother last week. Terry wants to play this week, but he will do so only after funeral services Saturday, at which time he will join the team in Denver.
On the left side, young and untested tackle Will Svitek might have to battle the dangerous Elvis Dumervil if McIntosh can't go. And if Turley can't play, the only tackle depth comes from Tre Stallings, who has played sparingly.
Embattled Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jim Bates is not thinking about what has happened in the first 12 weeks or what will happen after the season.
"We've got four games left, and this is the most important one and that's what we're working at right now, is getting ready for this game," Bates said.
What has happened thus far isn't comforting. The Broncos rank 27th in the NFL in total defense and 31st in points allowed, well short of what Denver expected in Bates' first year.
Along the way, the Broncos have tweaked the defensive scheme, bringing an eighth player in the box and getting away from the mammoth defensive tackles Bates usually prefers. Tackle Sam Adams was cut this week after being a starter all season.
The players have defended Bates.
"The man can coach football, I've seen enough coaches to know if someone can," safety John Lynch said. "Coaches got to give you a chance, and then you have to go get it done. I think the culpability really lies with the players."
Bates himself avoided looking at the big picture.
"We'll talk about that at the end of the year," Bates said. "Anytime you're not successful it's always difficult."
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