Miami Dolphins (3-4) at Denver Broncos (4-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)
SERIES: 15th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead Denver 10-3-1, including seven of the last eight meetings. Miami is 7-0 at home against Denver, and 3-3-1 in the Mile High city. Denver is 1-0 in the postseason, beating Miami 38-3 at Mile High Stadium on Jan. 9, 1999 in which RB Terrell Davis rushed for 199 yards and two TDs. The Dolphins rushed for 14 yards on 13 carries. Hall of Fame QB John Elway and the Broncos went on to win their second straight Super Bowl at then Pro Player Stadium, before he retired.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-27
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos are ranked 28th against the pass and are without injured CB Champ Bailey, while Dolphins QB Chad Pennington is coming off his best game of the season. But coach Tony Sparano is still wary of the negative-yardage plays Denver is capable of. That's why he has been preaching the running game this week. The Broncos give up 154.6 yards per game on the ground, with assignment lapses leading to nine carries of at least 20 yards. ... Denver needs to do a good job of controlling the clock. The Dolphins have allowed more than 100 rushing yards in three consecutive games, and the Broncos expect touted rookie RB Ryan Torain to see his first action of the season. Still, the Dolphins are most vulnerable in the secondary and the main key is for QB Jay Cutler to cut down on turnovers (five interceptions past four games).
Key Injuries: Dolphins: CB Will Allen (knee) and DT Jason Ferguson (oblique) will play. Broncos: RB Michael Pittman (ribs) said he will play; TE Tony Scheffler (groin) and RB Selvin Young (groin) could be game-day decisions.
Need to know: The Broncos are 10-3 following bye weeks. ... The Dolphins are aiming to gain more than 350 yards for a sixth consecutive game for the first time since 1986.
--RB Patrick Cobbs signed a two-year extension. Cobbs, who was fighting for a roster spot in training camp, is repeatedly praised by coach Tony Sparano for his versatility. Cobbs, a former practice squad member on the Dolphins and Patriots, has six special teams tackles and 10 catches for 216 yards, including two touchdowns in the loss to the Texans. "It does feel good that the coaching staff and everybody behind me believe in what I can do. It's a two-year deal. I'm not going to kid myself. But it feels good to have their confidence and some security."
--OLB Joey Porter was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October, for contributing 14 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble in a four-game span. This is the second time Porter has won this award, but first since 2000. Porter said the key to getting to Jay Cutler is to get him in third-and-long situations as much as possible. "We don't see anybody that's on a tear like Joey's right now. I congratulated Joey today; he was given an award today as a defensive player. I think the defensive coaches have made adjustments in personnel and shifted people around earlier in the season. I think it's all worked out for the best." - Offensive coordinator Dan Henning, on Porter.
--WR Brandon London was giving his smaller DBs plenty of looks in practice to prepare for Denver's 6-4 WR Brandon Marshall. London seems closer and closer to getting lots of passes thrown his way. He did have his first NFL reception last week, a 6-yarder against the Bills.
--CB Jason Allen will face his biggest test of his career going against Marshall. While Will Allen is the starter, it's expected that the 6-1 Jason Allen will be matched vs. Marshall with Will Allen the nickel.
--FB Casey Cramer (ankle) practiced without limitations again and will probably be activated for the first time in three weeks. It's doubtful that the Dolphins will activate two fullbacks so Lousaka Polite may be left out on Sunday.
--QB Chad Pennington has never played in Denver but he is arguably the hottest QB in the league and his teammates are believers. "He lifts up our spirits like our father. He's like a Dad out there. When we're out there and we're feeling down, he just gives us a little saying to get us pumped up." -- C Samson Satele, on Pennington in the huddle.
--TE Tony Scheffler continues to be limited by a groin injury in practice. He could be a game-time decision for this week.
--WR Brandon Stokley said he feels good but didn't proclaim himself 100 percent ready for this week. Still, Stokley has practiced this week on a limited basis and has a good chance at playing on Sunday. He missed Denver's last game with a concussion.
--RB Andre Hall didn't practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday with an ankle injury. Hall is Denver's top kickoff returner, and might be replaced in that role by Eddie Royal if he can't play.
--RB Selvin Young has been limited by a groin injury this week in practice. The Broncos will monitor him again on Friday and probably will wait until Sunday to make a final decision on his status.
--RB Michael Pittman has practiced in full all week despite some bruised ribs. Barring a late setback, Pittman will play and start on Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Dolphins have high hopes for beating the defensive-strapped Denver Broncos in the Mile High City, but they know that the altitude is a factor.
That's why Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder has prepared extra hard this week.
"I got on my roof yesterday and did some pushups, so I'm fine," Crowder joked.
What isn't a joke is Denver has the best home record of any NFL team over the past 30 years. Even Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said the "atmosphere" favors his team.
"There is a difference, not just for people outside the division, for people inside the division. We've got the best record I think at home over the last 30 years and I don't think it's because we've been the best football team. I do think there's an advantage from an altitude standpoint. Players that have played here over the years feel that way as well," Shanahan said.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano agrees it takes time to adjust to the high altitude and that's why he's taking his team a day earlier and are leaving on Friday instead of Saturday.
"I think that there's no way to really prepare for that, to be out there in that kind of altitude or any of those type of things. I just think that you hope that physically, you're in good enough shape to handle some of those situations and that you've done everything that you need to do in preparation a while ago.
"I think we're in pretty good shape that way. But when you get down there, it is a little bit of a factor. One thing I try not to do is talk an awful lot about those things to the players. I just think the more you talk about it, the more it becomes an issue with them and we're trying to eliminate those kind of things."
Sparano said it helps to have depth at running back with Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown and Patrick Cobbs, as well as tight end with David Martin and Anthony Fasano, so he could alternate players to keep them fresh. He also hinted that he may activate an extra offensive lineman such as Nate Garner to give his big guys a break.
If Mike Shanahan had his druthers, rookie running back Ryan Torain wouldn't make his debut this week. Torain has only been practicing for a couple of weeks after being out since early August with an elbow injury.
Shanahan might not have a choice. Andre Hall missed Thursday's practice with an ankle injury, and Selvin Young is still coming back from a groin injury.
Torain and Michael Pittman were the only healthy tailbacks in Thursday's practice. If that trend continues, Torain will have to be active.
"I don't really want to play him this week, for obvious reasons -- he's just been going for about a week and a half," Shanahan said. "But we'll wait and see."
Torain said early this week that he wasn't limited in practice anymore and that he was hoping to play. He has practiced all week with full participation all week, according to the practice report.
Torain hasn't played since the middle of last season, his final one at Arizona State. He suffered a season-ending foot injury, then before the Broncos' first preseason game he hurt his elbow.
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