Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) at Denver Broncos (7-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS (Bill Macatee, Steve Beuerlein)
SERIES: 97th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead the series 53-43, with Denver winning the one playoff meeting. The teams have split their most recent four meetings, but Denver swept the season series last year. Kansas City won this year's first meeting at Arrowhead 33-19 to break a 12-game losing streak that extended back to 2007.
PREDICTION: Denver 30-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The offense features more spread looks now, but the Chiefs did exploit the Broncos' weak run defense with RB Larry Johnson rushing for 198 yards and a pair of scores in the first meeting. Denver is allowing 144.2 rushing yards per game, and has been beaten for 17 runs of 20-plus yards. Look for Kansas City to incorporate some misdirection in an attempt to pop a few big gainers.
Drop and heave: The Chiefs' six sacks are less than half of the next-worst pass-rushing team in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Broncos allow a sack once every 57.6 dropbacks - the third-best ratio since 1982. Translation? Rookie CBs Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers are going to have to hold coverage on WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal an awfully long time. And with rookie RB Peyton Hillis running downhill effectively, the safeties can't sell out in pass support.
Specialties: Broncos PK Matt Prater has missed a field goal in four of his past five games.
Key Injuries: Chiefs: LB Donnie Edwards (hamstring, knee) and RG Adrian Jones (ankle) are not expected to play; MLB Pat Thomas (hamstring) is uncertain. Broncos: CB Champ Bailey (groin) is uncertain; LBs Nate Webster and D.J. Williams could both return from knee injuries this week.
Need to know: Johnson has averaged 155.2 rushing yards in his past four games against Denver. ... The Broncos clinch the AFC West with a win or a loss by San Diego.
--WR Mark Bradley did not work out in Thursday's practice and is very questionable this week for Denver. Bradley, nursing a calf injury, did very little work last week and saw minimal action in Oakland.
--LB Rocky Boiman, who in seven games with the Chiefs has started twice at right outside linebacker and twice in the middle, will go back to the right wing against Denver as the Chiefs take a look at Derrick Johnson's prospects as a middle linebacker.
--G Adrian Jones was limited again in Thursday's workout and could miss a third straight game this week against Denver. Wade Smith, himself limited this week with an ankle injury, likely will start again at right guard against the Broncos.
--LB Pat Thomas continues to recover slowly from a hamstring injury and remains very questionable for Denver. Thomas has missed the last three games.
--CB Patrick Surtain likely will miss a seventh game this year as he continues to battle what the team has called a quad injury.
--CB Champ Bailey was limited in practice Thursday after he was a bit sore following Wednesday's workout. The Broncos will watch him in practice on Friday, but won't take any chances by rushing him back from a groin injury.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban returned to a limited practice Thursday after being held out Wednesday because of a back injury. He should be able to play this week if there are no further issues.
--S Marlon McCree practiced on a limited basis Thursday, his first practice since suffering a high ankle sprain on Nov. 2. He probably won't play this week but is getting closer to a return.
--FB Spencer Larsen was downgraded from full practice to limited practice Thursday because of groin and hip injuries. The Broncos will see how he improves on Friday and he could be a game-time decision.
--LB D.J. Williams practiced in full Wednesday, but was limited on Thursday because of a knee injury. That's a step back for Williams, who might miss another week if he doesn't practice well Friday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Chiefs will move linebacker Derrick Johnson, who has been more cold than hot in his four seasons in Kansas City, from outside to middle linebacker in what they hope is more than an experiment.
Johnson, Kansas City's top draft pick in 2005, has yet to become the consistent impact player the Chiefs thought he would be. They moved him from the strong side, where he played his three seasons, to the weak side this year, but his momentum-turning plays remain at a minimum.
Against Denver this week, Johnson will get his first start in the middle, a position where the team hopes he can retain the focus and intensity that seems to wane through the course of a game.
"We've got some decisions we need to make, and we need to see if he can play Mike," said coach Herm Edwards. "He played it some in college (at Texas) and was a very good player.
"I think he wants to do it, but it puts a little more burden on him, too. You have to be more focused because you have to get the team lined up and call the plays and make the checks. That might help him too.
"Playing in the middle of the field, he has a good feel for the run alleys like he did in college. He can go both ways as far as fitting the runs. You're on an island sometimes (at an outside spot) and you're not involved in the run game. Now he's in the middle of the field, and for the next month, he's going to play there."
With their shotgun formations and spread looks, the Chiefs' offense looks different than it did the first time the Denver Broncos faced them.
Still, the Broncos remember the first meeting. Larry Johnson had 198 yards, and Denver is figuring on a heavy dose of Johnson in the rematch Sunday.
"We saw enough of them in the first game handing the ball to No. 27," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. "I'm sure that isn't going to change."
The Broncos have played better against the run lately. The poor game against the Chiefs, when Johnson broke off many long runs, set the Broncos into a downward spiral. Counting the Chiefs game, the Broncos allowed 191 rushing yards per game over a four-game stretch.
At the end of that streak, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan had his players practice in pads, something he rarely does during the season. Since then, Denver has allowed 129.8 rushing yards per game and hopes to slow down Johnson this week.
"I think they've improved a lot on defense and they've really made it pretty difficult to run the ball," Edwards said.
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