"My big focus this week is beating them because it'll mean we'll be 9-4," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "That's the most important thing for me and our team."
But the Broncos surely know a win over the Colts would help validate their success this season and be a huge step towards a playoff berth while keeping them in the AFC West race with San Diego.
McDaniels has some personal pride on the line, although he has not made a big deal about it this week. He was offensive coordinator for the only 16-0 team in NFL history, the 2007 New England Patriots. The Colts are tied with that Patriots team for longest regular-season winning streak in NFL history. That's why a win might be about just a bit more than adding a win to his own team's record.
"If it in some way it can derail history ... " McDaniels said, smiling. "Then it is what it is."
The focus won't stray far, however. The Broncos go into Sunday's game with a legitimate chance to be more competitive against the Colts than some of the past few matchups.
The secondary is much better, allowing the fewest pass plays of 40 yards or more in the NFL and the second fewest yards per game. The Broncos are running the ball well, which should help keep Colts quarterback Peyton Manning off the field. And the Broncos have the depth at receiver to create some mismatches with Indianapolis' young secondary.
Still, they understand the challenge this week presents.
"You've got to play a pretty close to an error-free game, which is hard to do," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "They're a very complete football team."
The Broncos are also well aware of how other teams have let a win over the Colts slip away after leading late. So they need to play well, and not let up.
"You can't play 56 minutes," McDaniels said. "If you've played 56 good minutes, you might have a smile on your face and you're going to lose. If you play 58 good minutes, it might be the same situation. You've got to play 60 minutes or longer, if it takes longer."
--The Broncos have had trouble with no-huddle offenses often this season, and that's not good news going into a game against the Colts. Part of the reason Denver has had issues against hurry-up offenses is it disrupts their substitutions, but Broncos coach Josh McDaniels figures substituting often against Peyton Manning is a bad idea.
"We're not going to try to run a bunch of guys in and out the game," McDaniels said. "Nobody does against this team and we're not going to try to do it either."
The Broncos often substitute along the defensive line and bring in a different package of linebackers for nickel situations. They might have to limit that against the Colts, but McDaniels said they don't have any choice.
"We will not try to do something that's impossible to do, and that's impossible to do," McDaniels said. "If you don't have the right time -- if the ball hasn't been thrown downfield 40 yards, if there's not a timeout on the field -- you don't try to do that and disrupt the entire flow of your game by allowing (Manning) to create situations where you have to call timeouts or get 5-yard penalties that keep drives going. We're going to play with the guys that are out there and when we feel like we can substitute without issue, then we'll substitute if we need to."
--Few players remain from when Larry Coyer was Denver's defensive coordinator. Coyer ran the Broncos defense from 2003-06, and now is in charge of the Colts defense. The Colts rank second in the NFL in scoring defense and Coyer is being praised for his work.
"I would say it's mostly the same philosophy, but you can tell that he's added a few different things that they haven't really done a lot of in the past," McDaniels said.
--The Broncos will have to go the rest of the season with Tyler Polumbus at right tackle, with Ryan Harris going on injured reserve. Polumbus started four times when Harris was out with a toe injury in November, and the Broncos say they have confidence in him.
"I've seen a guy that has gained confidence," McDaniels said. "We think we have a guy that is getting better each week."
BY THE NUMBERS: 417.5 -- Yards Peyton Manning averaged against the Broncos in two playoff wins against Denver this decade.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a veteran group in the secondary. We're going to do our best to make sure we don't make the game easier for him than it already is." -- Broncos safety Brian Dawkins on Manning.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos placed right tackle Ryan Harris on injured reserve and signed former Chiefs tackle Herb Taylor to take his spot on the active roster. Taylor spent two years with the Chiefs, and was cut at the end of training camp this year.
Harris is a big loss for the Broncos. He couldn't continue to play without surgery on his right big toe, and his recovery time was going to last too long for the Broncos to keep him on the active roster. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said the injury Harris suffered was to the same toe, but a different injury than the one that kept him out four weeks.
--CB Alphonso Smith could see some playing time if the Colts spread the field and the Broncos counter with a dime package. Peyton Manning loves testing rookies, so Smith will have to be at his best if he plays.
--TE Richard Quinn could see some extra playing time this week if the Broncos decide to go big and run against Indianapolis. Quinn has played special teams and in jumbo packages on offense as a rookie this year.
--WR Brandon Stokley hasn't played too much this season as Denver's fourth receiver. He has not caught more than one pass in any of the Broncos' past six games.
--LB Andra Davis could see some extra playing time this week. The Broncos don't plan to substitute often against Peyton Manning, who likes to go without a huddle when teams try to swap players in and out. Davis usually comes off the field on passing downs.
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