At some point the Broncos, who travel to New York to play the Jets this Sunday, want more from themselves than to keep hoping San Diego doesn't make a run.
"I don't want to be in the playoffs off of those guys," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "I want to be in the playoffs with what we do. We want to control our own destiny."
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan understands that there are areas in which his team can improve. He could go back to the playoffs and win the AFC West for only the second time since 1998 by just winning a few games down the stretch, but Shanahan usually has higher hopes than to just get to the postseason.
"We want to play at the level where if you do get in the playoffs, you have a chance to do something when you get there," Shanahan said. "That's the key."
The Broncos have been maddeningly inconsistent all season. There's no way to explain how they beat a solid Atlanta team on the road one week, then lose at home by three touchdowns to a poor Oakland team in their next game.
The back-to-back road wins at Cleveland and Atlanta at least gives the Broncos some hope of finishing the season strong.
"I think that shows what we're capable of doing on both sides of the ball," Shanahan said. "We're capable of beating a good football team on the road, and we're also capable of losing when we don't make the plays we normally make. Sometimes you beat yourselves, other times they beat you."
There are reasons for the inconsistency. The Broncos are a very young team which has started seven rookies this year. The defense has only four interceptions all season and hasn't had a sack in three games. The lack of big plays on defense give the Broncos little margin for error.
Turnovers have also been a problem for the offense. The Broncos are 5-0 when posting an even or positive turnover margin, but 1-5 with a negative turnover margin. Last week against the Raiders, the Broncos didn't force any turnovers, but a fumble inside Oakland's 10-yard line and a fourth-quarter interception were huge turning points in the game.
The Broncos have tough games at the Jets and at Carolina, with home games against Buffalo and Kansas City remaining before the season finale at San Diego. Although the Broncos have a lead in the AFC West, they also feel there's not much cushion.
"At this point every game is so crucial and everyone in the locker room knows it," quarterback Jay Cutler said.
--Broncos fullback Andrew Pinnock, who signed on Tuesday, said he felt surprisingly good running with the scout team during Wednesday's practice. He didn't know what the coaches' plan was for him to see his first game action but he thought he was close to being ready to play.
"If the coaches put me in the plan, say 'We'd like you to play,' I know I can," Pinnock said. "But I think they're not going to rush me back."
--The Broncos are ready for the Jets' 3-4 defense this week, because they have seen a lot of it. With the 3-4 becoming more popular around the league, it's less of a shock for teams to prepare against it.
"It used to be only a few teams, but now it seems like everyone is running it," Cutler said. "We are comfortable with it and we have the blocking schemes down."
--Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler often gets compared to Brett Favre because the two are both strong-armed quarterbacks that like to take chances.
"I grew up watching Brett Favre and I have kind of admired his game," Cutler said. "I don't know if this is his last year or if he has some more in him, but he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play."
Cutler and Favre share the same agent, James "Bus" Cook.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7,534 -- Quarterback Jay Cutler's yardage through his first 32 career games. Jets quarterback Brett Favre had 6,995 through his first 32 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he may have given me a run back in his 20s but I think I got him now." -- Broncos QB Jay Cutler, joking about his arm strength vs. Brett Favre.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos cut safety Roderick Rogers two days after he started against the Raiders. The coaches weren't happy with how he played the deep middle against Oakland. The Broncos have had a revolving door at free safety all season. They will likely turn to Calvin Lowry or Vernon Fox this season.
The Broncos signed fullback Andrew Pinnock to replace Rogers. The Broncos were short at fullback because Peyton Hillis has been playing tailback and linebacker Spencer Larsen has been playing fullback.
--RB Peyton Hillis could benefit from the Broncos signing fullback Andrew Pinnock. Hillis had been lining up at fullback and blocking for Tatum Bell in two-back sets because the Broncos had few options at fullback. As soon as Pinnock can play, the Broncos could keep Hillis at tailback full time.
--CB Josh Bell has played as well as could be expected as a starter the past two games, while Champ Bailey is out with a groin injury. Bell is ahead of Karl Paymah and Jack Williams now, so once Bailey returns he is likely to remain as the nickel cornerback.
--S Marquand Manuel is fourth on the Broncos in tackles but has lacked any big plays. He has no sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries this season.
--LB Spencer Larsen is the Broncos' top special teams tackler. He has nine; nobody else has more than six. Larsen is carving out a valuable niche for himself with his versatility.
--WR Eddie Royal's 30.3-yard average on kickoff returns would be a Broncos' single-season record. The Broncos won't take Royal off returns because of his ability, despite the increased risk of injury.