Denver Broncos (6-5) at New York Jets (8-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon)
SERIES: 31st regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 15-14-1, and Denver beat the Jets 27-0 in the last meeting, in 2007. Denver defeated the Jets 23-10 in the 1998 AFC Championship Game. The Broncos are 3-6 all time in Giants Stadium against the Jets and Giants.
PREDICTION: Jets 27-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: Which Denver offense will show up? You never know from one week to the next, with the Broncos 5-0 when they don't lose the turnover battle. The Broncos' patchwork backfield will have a tough time gaining much traction against the Jets' third-ranked run defense, so the bulk of the offense will fall on QB Jay Cutler's arm. If the ground game stalls early, don't be surprised to see Denver simply spread the field and test the depth of the Jets' secondary. ... The Jets have scored on their opening possession in each of their past six games, and QB Brett Favre admitted he is getting more and more comfortable with the play-calling. Favre should be able to orchestrate sustained drives with RB Thomas Jones chipping away at the 27th-ranked run defense to set up the passing game. And with Denver going without a sack the past three weeks, Favre knows he'll also have ample time in the pocket. The onus will be on the Broncos to find a way to contain Jones and put Favre in situations where he'll force the ball downfield.
KEY INJURIES: Broncos: CB Champ Bailey (groin) and LB Nate Webster (knee) could be game-day decisions; LB D.J. Williams (knee) is likely out another week. Jets: ILB David Harris (groin) and SS Eric Smith (concussion after-effects) practiced some this week but are likely another week away.
FAST FACTS: With two touchdown passes, Cutler will reach 50 in a team-record 33 career games. ... The Jets seek their first six-game winning streak since 2000.
--CB Champ Bailey, who has a groin injury, was limited in practice Thursday. He hasn't had a full practice since suffering the injury more than a month ago but wants to play this week.
--RB Selvin Young was limited again in practice on Thursday. He has been running with the scout team and doesn't appear likely to return this week from a groin injury.
--WR Eddie Royal returned to a limited participation in practice. He has a toe injury but says he plans to play on Sunday.
--LB Nate Webster practiced on a limited basis Thursday. He has a knee injury. The Broncos will use Spencer Larsen again at middle linebacker if Webster isn't ready.
--LB D.J. Williams is practicing on a limited basis. He has a knee injury, and if he doesn't come back this week he will have a chance to play next week.
--P Reggie Hodges has averaged 42.0 yards gross and 37.6 net in seven games since taking over as the Jets' punter. Hodges would be 10th in the AFC in net punting average if he had enough punts to qualify.
--RB Thomas Jones is leading the AFC with 950 rushing yards through 11 games. He is fourth in the NFL in that category and is closing in on his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
--LB David Harris (groin surgery) practiced Thursday on a limited basis and could play against Denver, although it isn't very likely.
--TE Bubba Franks (hip) practiced full Thursday. He hasn't played since being injured at Oakland on Oct. 19. If he can return to the lineup, the Jets would no longer have to use linemen Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter as extra tight ends so frequently.
--SS Eric Smith (lingering effects from concussion) practiced Thursday on a limited basis and could play against Denver, although it isn't very likely.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Broncos kicker Matt Prater is going to continue his normal routine, figuring that he'll get back to the form that made him one of the best kickers in the NFL over the first half of the season.
Prater has missed five field goals in Denver's last four games after starting the season 13-for-14.
"It's tough, to have success and start struggling a little bit," Prater said. "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. It worked in the beginning and it shouldn't be any different now."
Prater has been very good in practice, which has led the Broncos to believe Prater's problems are mental. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he thought Prater had lost some of his confidence.
Prater had two missed against Oakland. He said he overcompensated for the wind on his first and missed wide right. On the second he said he caught the ground as he swung at the ball and hooked it wide left.
Although Prater acknowledged it is human nature to think about some of his missed kicks, he said that his confidence was fine.
"I'm still pretty confident," Prater said. "When I go out I expect to make all the kicks."
Kerry Rhodes knows what likely will be coming his way on Sunday -- the ball.
And, no, the fourth-year free safety doesn't take it as a slight.
"In the past, maybe it would (be an insult)," Rhodes said. "But the way we're stopping the run, I can't complain. Why not pass against us. We have to step up and try to hold up our end of the bargain."
He added with a laugh, "I think this week I'll actually get a little action."
When Denver (6-5) visits the Jets (8-3) on Sunday, the Broncos aren't likely to spend too much time going against the Jets' defensive strength, their run-stopping front seven. And while Denver does average 4.4 yards per carry, the Broncos likely will decide they have a better chance of doing business through the air, with strong-armed Jay Cutler and talented receivers such as Brandon Marshall (67 receptions) and Eddie Royal (58), both of whom rank in the top 10 of the league.
And Denver coach Mike Shanahan's offensive philosophy is similar to that of the Jets in that his offense adjusts to take advantage of the perceived weaknesses of that week's opponent more so than other teams do.
"With Shanahan, you don't know what he'll do," Rhodes said. "I saw one game where they had 47 snaps empty (backfield)."
That might be the approach he goes with here, considering the Broncos are third in the NFL in passing offense with 273 yards per game, while the Jets are 26th in pass defense, allowing 239.4 yards per game. The Jets are third in rushing defense.
Third-year quarterback Cutler has completed 246 of 406 attempts for 3,036 yards and 19 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He had thrown at least one touchdown pass in each game this season until being blanked in that category by Oakland in a 31-10 upset loss last Sunday. In that game, Cutler was 16-for-37 for 204 yards with one interception.
"We had some turnovers and we had a lot of one-on-one situations where we didn't make the plays," Cutler said in a conference call. "In the past games when we've had one-on-ones, we made some big plays and had some big chunks (of yards). It didn't happen. They have a lot of talent on that defense. (The Raiders) have the best corner in the game right now (Nnamdi Asomugha) and he kind of cuts the field in half."
Of course, Darrelle Revis of the Jets is also fast becoming a lockdown cornerback, so look for him to likely defend Marshall. Revis held Tennessee's Justin Gage to one reception in the Jets' win over the Titans, and it occurred with the Jets leading by 21 points in the fourth quarter.
Revis respects what Cutler can do. "He's very tough," Revis said. "We know they throw the ball 60 percent of the time. I think he is more of a threat running. He is a great running quarterback. He can extend plays."
Rhodes agreed. "He's kind of a young gunslinger," he said of Cutler. "He throws the ball around. He runs around trying to make plays."
Other than Revis and Rhodes, the Jets have used a lot of personnel at the other spots, with the recently re-signed Ty Law now taking over at right cornerback.
"I think as the season goes on," Rhodes said, "we're kind of figuring out how we want to approach it and how we want to match up with different people."
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