The Broncos won't make the playoffs without some help. No matter if they win or lose, they need other teams to lose to have a shot at the playoffs, although a win against Kansas City makes the postseason scenarios much more realistic.
If the Broncos don't get that help and miss the playoffs, they'll join the 1978 Redskins and the 2003 Vikings as the only teams to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs. The Broncos know the 2003 Vikings well. Last year Denver joined that Minnesota team as the only two squads to lead a division by three games and not make the playoffs. Denver led the AFC West by three-and-a-half games this year.
While much of the focus is on what the Broncos need to get in, the better question might be how they find themselves in this mess. Everything went right during a 6-0 start. Denver won close games with big plays -- remember Brandon Stokley's miracle touchdown in the final seconds against Cincinnati -- but isn't finishing games the same way.
"It seems like we're going through growing pains at the wrong time of the year," Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said.
Offensively, the Broncos have had plenty of issues holding them back. The running game has faltered, especially in the past three weeks. Rookie Knowshon Moreno has averaged fewer than three yards per carry each of the past three games, but coach Josh McDaniels said the line's play has plenty to do with that. Short-yardage failures have been an issue throughout the season.
The Broncos' defense has given up big plays late in games recently. Against Indianapolis, Denver had cut the deficit to five in the fourth quarter when Peyton Manning completed a third-and-10, which sparked a touchdown drive. The Raiders had a long fourth-quarter touchdown drive and scored the game-winner with less than a minute to go. Last week, after coming back from 17 points down to tie Philadelphia, the defense gave up a couple of long plays that set up an Eagles field goal with four seconds left.
Early in the season, the Broncos owned the second half. Now it seems as if every close game is going the other way, and Denver has put itself in a position to need help from other teams. The Broncos already saw the Jets win a game to stay alive in the wild-card race when the Colts rested starters last week, and face a similar situation this week if the Bengals -- who have little to play for -- also sit their starters against the Jets.
"They have a right to do that," linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "They've earned that."
The reason the Broncos didn't complain is they knew they could have already clinched a playoff spot instead of needing help.
"That's your problem," McDaniels said. "You should have done more."
--The Broncos have five players who made the Pro Bowl: Offensive tackle Ryan Clady, receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Champ Bailey. Clady, Dumervil and Dawkins were named starters.
"Very deserving, earned that recognition and are certainly deserving of selection," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "We're proud of all of those guys."
--Linebacker Mario Haggan has quietly had a solid season. His season has been quiet because his position doesn't generate a lot of stats in Denver's scheme.
Denver's outside linebackers keep contain on running plays, funneling everything inside. So while Haggan has 51 tackles, inside linebackers D.J. Williams and Andra Davis have combined for 196. Haggan is fine in his role, knowing the importance he has within the scheme.
"They trust me on the edge, they don't worry about when things come my way," Haggan said.
--The Broncos signed rookie punter Britton Colquitt off Miami's practice squad, but Mitch Berger will still handle the punting this week. Berger thought he had played well over the past six weeks, but admitted he struggled last week to execute the game plan, which was to kick away from Eagles returner DeSean Jackson.
"I know that I hurt us," Berger said. "I didn't do my job as well as it needed to be done."
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Number of games in which quarterback Kyle Orton has had a passer rating of 90 or higher this season, which ties John Elway's franchise record set in 1997.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Well, I definitely don't want to look at it like that. It might get more confusing. But our best chance to get in is if we win." -- Linebacker Darrell Reid after being told that there are scenarios in which the Broncos can get in the playoffs even with a loss Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A poor game by Mitch Berger against Philadelphia forced the Broncos to address their punting situation. Britton Colquitt, the younger brother of Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, was signed to the active roster before the regular-season finale. Berger wasn't cut. Denver had two empty roster spots with receiver Kenny McKinley and guard Russ Hochstein going on injured reserve. Colquitt, a rookie, was with the team in training camp and preseason. Berger will punt this Sunday and Colquitt should have the opportunity to compete for the job next year.
Denver also signed offensive tackle Herb Taylor, who was on the active roster for 10 days earlier in December, to fill one of the open spots.
--RB Knowshon Moreno needs 103 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Moreno hasn't had a 100-yard game all season, but the Broncos rushed for 245 yards in the first meeting against the Chiefs.
--LB Elvis Dumervil, who leads the NFL in sacks, has only 47 tackles. That isn't necessarily a reflection of how he plays against the run. In Denver's scheme, the outside linebackers set the edge and keep contain, funneling plays inside. That reduces Dumervil's chances.
--DE Ryan McBean has had a solid season, his first as a starter. The Broncos think he is raw and has plenty of upside, and could be a nice fit in their 3-4 defense in future years as well.
--WR Brandon Lloyd has a chance to play again this week. Lloyd, who spent the first 14 weeks on the inactive list, had four catches against Philadelphia. With rookie Kenny McKinley out for the season and receiver Eddie Royal coming off a head/neck injury, the Broncos could keep Lloyd active for depth.
--OT Brandon Gorin was inserted as a tight end on a few running plays last week. The Broncos could use the same alignment against a Chiefs team that struggles to stop the run.
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