Buffalo Bills (6-8) at Denver Broncos (8-6)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS (Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots)
SERIES: 34th meeting, Bills lead 17-15-1 but the Broncos will be looking for their sixth consecutive win in the series. PK Jason Elam's 42-yard field goal as time expired lifted Denver to a 15-14 victory in Buffalo last season that kicked off the 2007 season. Bills last played in Denver in 2002, a 28-23 loss.
PREDICTION: Broncos 23-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bills QB Trent Edwards is set to return, and it will be interesting to see how the groin injury that sidelined him the past two weeks holds up in the below-freezing temperatures forecasted. Buffalo is seeking more stability than playmaking from Edwards, and will try to ease him back by relying on RB Marshawn Lynch, who has averaged 98.8 rushing yards the past five games. ... Broncos QB Jay Cutler would love to spread the field and throw the ball all day, and that's always a possibility with the Broncos minus their top five running backs. But such a one-dimensional attack didn't work well in Carolina. Look for coach Mike Shanahan to call for more of the short passing game to complement RBs Tatum Bell and P.J. Pope and at least keep the defense somewhat honest. Downfield, Cutler should target rookie CB Leodis McKelvin.
Key Injuries: Bills: CB Jabari Greer (knee) is expected to miss his fifth consecutive game; WR James Hardy (knee surgery) is out for the season. Broncos: CB Champ Bailey (groin) will be a game-day decision; RG Chris Kuper (broken left hand) said he plans to play.
Need to know: Buffalo is expected to use Gibran Hamden as Edwards' backup instead of J.P. Losman. ... The Broncos clinch the AFC West with a win or a loss by San Diego.
--QB Trent Edwards, who has missed two full games and half of another with a groin injury, practiced for a second day this week. He's on track to start Sunday's game at Denver barring any setbacks. There are concerns about the near-zero temperatures forecast and how it will affect his groin. But he's now again able to plant and follow through on his throws.
--QB Gibran Hamdan, the team's third-string quarterback promoted to No. 2, would start Sunday if Trent Edwards' problem groin acts up. Hamdan, a former NFL Europa player, has never started an NFL game.
--RB Marshawn Lynch was held out of contact work with a bruised shoulder. He did work individual drills and should be OK for Sunday's game at Denver, though it may be a game-time decision. Lynch has averaged close to 100 yards rushing each of the past five games.
--LT Jason Peters sat out practice with a sore knee. He is expected to play, however, Sunday at Denver.
--CB Jabari Greer practiced on a limited basis again. He has missed four starts.
--OL Jonathan Scott, a fifth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2006, was signed to the active roster. He takes the spot of DE Aaron Schobel, who was placed on IR last week with a foot injury.
--OT Ryan Clady missed a second straight day of practice with an ankle injury. He has said he anticipates he'll play, but he would likely have to show something in practice Friday for the coaches to consider activating him Sunday. Undrafted rookie Tyler Polumbus is the only backup tackle on the roster.
--G Chris Kuper has a broken bone in his left hand and didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday. The Broncos might hold him out of the game, unsure if he can be effective playing with a cast. Rookie Kory Lichtensteiger is Kuper's backup.
--CB Champ Bailey was limited in practice Thursday. He said he feels closer to returning this week, but the Broncos are still probably going to make him a game-time decision.
--S Vernon Fox missed two straight days of practice with a concussion. The Broncos might hold him out this week, especially because Josh Barrett has emerged recently at safety.
--WR Brandon Stokley was held out of practice with a foot injury. Although he hasn't practiced this week, he has been optimistic about his chances of playing. He didn't practice much last week but played against Carolina.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Bills have been criticized for not practicing outdoors for the past month, but that wasn't the case Thursday.
With game-time temperatures forecast for near zero Sunday in Denver, coach Dick Jauron took his team outside to practice. It was only around 35 degrees in Buffalo, but it was colder than inside the team's field house.
"At least prediction-wise, it's similar to what we're supposed to get there," Jauron said. "Colder there, about as windy, and there was hardly any wind today. If we can get close to similar conditions, it makes sense to come out."
Quarterback Trent Edwards, who was born in California and played his college football on the West Coast, has struggled in the snow and cold in his two NFL seasons.
He's returning to the lineup after missing two games and part of a third with a severe groin pull. How the weather affects him is of concern.
"When it comes down to your groin area, it's pretty essential when it comes to dropping back and driving through the football," Edwards said. "That's something I need to learn from and get better at."
If Edwards re-injures his groin, the Bills are ready to play untested backup Gibran Hamdan, a former NFL Europa player with no NFL starts. J.P. Losman, 0-4 in relief appearances this year, has been demoted to No. 3.
The Denver Broncos don't want a repeat of what happened to them in 2006, the last time they were close to a playoff spot.
In the season finale two years ago, the Broncos needed to beat a 6-9 San Francisco team to go to the playoffs. They ran out to a 13-0 lead. But the 49ers came back and beat Denver 26-23 in overtime, leaving the Broncos on the outside of the AFC playoffs.
This season, Denver wins the AFC West with a win over 6-8 Buffalo, or with a San Diego loss at Tampa Bay. The Broncos don't want to regret missing another prime chance to get to the playoffs.
"The more years you play, you understand the playoffs are something that doesn't happen every year," said defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was a rookie in 2006.
Quarterback Jay Cutler said he doesn't think the Broncos will fall into the trap of looking ahead or taking the Bills lightly. Cutler was making his fifth career start in that loss to the 49ers.
"It is a totally different feel for me and a totally different feel for everyone in the locker room," Cutler said. "We have a completely different team. I have a lot more experience and the guys have more confidence than we did in themselves and in me."
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