Denver Broncos (7-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-8)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS (Dick Enberg, Dan Fouts)
PREDICTION: Broncos 27-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chiefs' goal is to keep the game close into the second half as coach Todd Haley admits his team isn't equipped to play from behind. That means plenty of RB Jamaal Charles as Kansas City attempts to sustain drives and keep its defense off the field. The Chiefs don't stop the run (134.5 yards per game) or pass (258.4) well, but the Broncos will come out looking to pound the ball to set up the pass. QB Kyle Orton is far more effective working the intermediate passing game after the ground game has softened the defense.
FAST FACTS: Orton is 10-4 in his past 14 starts. ... The Chiefs have been outscored 66-146 in the first half this season.
--S Brian Dawkins missed his second straight practice on Thursday because of an ankle injury. Dawkins has played before without much practice during the week.
--WR Eddie Royal practiced in full all week and will play on Sunday. He was knocked out of last Thursday's game against the Giants with a thigh injury, but that injury won't cost him any more time.
--LB Wesley Woodyard got through his second straight practice on Thursday with full participation. Woodyard missed Tuesday with a neck injury but should be able to play. He plays in nickel situations.
--OT Ryan Harris had no setbacks to his toe injury this week in practice. He should return to the lineup after missing four straight starts.
--RB LaMont Jordan has practiced this week after missing two games with a back injury. Jordan didn't have a huge role before the injury but has generally been used as the third tailback ahead of Peyton Hillis.
--OLB Mike Vrabel got a second day of practice in and looks like he has a chance to start Sunday against Denver. Vrabel has been out for two games with a sprained left knee suffered on Nov. 15. Coach Todd Haley said a decision on Vrabel's playing status would be made Friday, but that the veteran was physically better and more active in Thursday's practice than he was Wednesday.
--RB Kolby Smith sat out the Chiefs' practice and his status for Sunday's game against the Broncos is very questionable. Smith has been dealing with a sprained ankle for the last two weeks. He's not missed any games and only one practice before Thursday. The Chiefs' depth at halfback is shallow with only Jamaal Charles and Dantrell Savage on the roster right now.
--RG Wade Smith has gone from the offensive line's utility man to starting at left tackle for an injured Branden Albert, to working at center for the injured Rudy Niswanger, to starting two games at right guard for the injured Andy Alleman. He may have found a home at his last stop, as Alleman is ready to return, but Smith will remain the starter against Denver.
--RB Dantrell Savage has gotten two practices in this week and it appears he's recovered enough from his ankle injury to get back on the playing field. With Kolby Smith also hobbled by an ankle injury, the Chiefs need Savage to be ready to play Sunday against Denver.
--RB Tim Castille and his ability to play both halfback and fullback could be given a test on Sunday against Denver. Because RBs Kolby Smith and Dantrell Savage have been hobbled with ankle injuries, there is no other halfback on the roster behind starter Jamaal Charles. Coach Todd Haley says the 5-11, 238-pound Castille can play both backfield positions.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
In the last three weeks the Denver Broncos' running game has had a resurgance, and fullback Spencer Larsen deserves at least some credit.
Larsen, a natural linebacker, started at fullback three games ago against Washington. The Broncos' running game, which had been averaging 111 rushing yards per game, has averaged 124.3 the past three games.
Denver doesn't often use a fullback -- the team doesn't list one on its official depth chart -- but Broncos coach Josh McDaniels has been impressed with what Larsen has offered when he has played.
"He did a great job lead blocking for us last week," McDaniels said. "Again, plays a big role for us on the goal line, plays a big role for us in short-yardage situations and has really become a dependable lead blocker for our team. That's a critical thing. If you really want to try to run the ball better as the weather gets worse, you need that player to be a dependable guy and know who to block."
There have been other factors in the improvement, such as Russ Hochstein's play in his three starts at left guard and Knowshon Moreno's maturation. But Larsen has played a role. Larsen didn't play fullback at all in college, but last year Mike Shanahan thought Larsen could play there. Larsen played there on occasion, and McDaniels kept him doing double duty when he took over as head coach.
Larsen's physical style makes a good fit for the position.
"Just my willingness to go and do whatever it is," Larsen said. "As a fullback that's what you need."
The formula was the belief of former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer. A team that wins all of its home games and all the games within its division is going to be 11-5 and in the playoffs.
That's one of the reasons behind the great home record the Chiefs had during Schottenheimer's 10-season tenure (1989-98) as head coach: 64-20, a .762 winning percentage. There were seven seasons in the playoffs during that time.
Since Schottenheimer left the franchise after the '98 season, the Chiefs have been 49-37 at home, a .570 winning percentage. There have been just two seasons in the playoffs.
All that's part of the history behind the importance of the three-game homestand the Chiefs will begin this Sunday when they host the Denver Broncos. It's an opportunity for this team to re-establish Arrowhead Stadium as a tough place to play.
In the last three seasons, the team is 4-17 at home. This year, it is 1-4, the victory coming in their last home game when it beat Pittsburgh 27-24 in overtime.
"Coming off our last home game which was our first home win against a very good team, I'd like to see us build on the home-field advantage aspect of it, I really would," said coach Todd Haley.
What was interesting about that victory over the Steelers was that while the game was played at Arrowhead, it might as well have been Heinz Field West. A good 50 percent of the crowd were Steelers fans waving Terrible Towels and cheering every move by the black and gold. The days are over when tickets to Chiefs tickets were valuable commodities, the subject of fights in divorces and deaths.
Haley preferred to talk about the other 50 percent of that crowd, the ones wearing red.
"I take my hat off to our fans," Haley said, hoping to attract more bodies to lackluster draws like the Broncos, Bills and Browns. "Even though we've been struggling, they came out against a team that travels pretty well (Pittsburgh) and did a tremendous job for us and gave us an advantage in the game against the Steelers. I'd like to build on that and obviously the team has to do its part."
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