Broncos: offense 5th (5th rush, 7th pass); defense 4th (5th rush, 9th pass). Chiefs: offense 2nd (3rd rush, 3rd pass); defense 31st (13th rush, 32nd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
It might be a good time for Broncos QB Jake Plummer to be on the road following a tumultuous week after making an obscene gesture at a fan last Sunday. Denver must have him focused and avoiding the mistakes that have plagued him recently. He hurt the Chiefs with bootleg runs and passes in the first meeting, and the Chiefs secondary is struggling mightily. Kansas City's best hope is to stop the run first and get in Plummer's face in passing situations. The way the Chiefs' offense is rolling, the defense doesn't have to get too many stops. The Broncos might use CB Champ Bailey to cover TE Tony Gonzalez, but the Chiefs' receivers have been playing very well of late and the Broncos' secondary is very thin due to injury. But the key will be RB Larry Johnson having a solid four quarters to force Denver to respect the run.
The last three meetings in Arrowhead have been decided by a combined seven points.
Broncos: Are 7-1 when leading at halftime.
Chiefs: Are 16-1 at home in December since 1995 and have averaged 38 points in their past three games.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-27
Broncos - QB Jake Plummer will be around Denver for at least one year and probably many more. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said the team is planning to exercise the $6 million option bonus due Plummer in March. Shanahan said he usually doesn't talk about contracts during the season but he wanted to announce it because of all the talk surrounding Plummer's future.
RB Tatum Bell took some handoffs in practice on Thursday. He was sore, but Shanahan said he still thinks Bell can play on Sunday at Kansas City.
DT Monsanto Pope has started every game this season, as has tackle Mario Fatafehi and end Marco Coleman. End Reggie Hayward has started 12 of 13 games for the Broncos' defensive line, and all of the past 12. Hayward came off the bench in the first game, and Raylee Johnson started.
DT Luther Elliss has missed four games with a calf injury, and now Elliss has a back injury that landed him on injured reserve. The Broncos signed Demetrin Veal to take his place on the roster. Elliss has dealt with injury problems the past few years.
CB Jeff Shoate hasn't played on defense since Week 4 and has been inactive for six straight games. But the rookie will probably be Denver's dime cornerback on Sunday because of injuries. The Broncos like Shoate's intelligence and are confident they can trust him to play a big role in the secondary.
Chiefs: - WR Johnnie Morton, who caught a 30-yard touchdown pass in last Monday night's win over Tennessee, did not practice again Thursday and he will be inactive for today's game with a sore knee.
DT Ryan Sims, who recorded two of Kansas City's five sacks against Tennessee this past Monday, did not practice Thursday but hopes to work out Friday and be available for Sunday's game with Denver at Arrowhead. Sims has a sprained ankle.
S Jerome Woods, who missed Thursday's practice and is expected to miss a fourth straight game against Denver, sought a second medical opinion this week on his injured knee that has kept him out of action since the Nov. 22 loss to New England. The diagnosis apparently was the same as that of the Chiefs doctors -- a bone bruise on the knee -- but the injury isn't responding quickly and Woods might well miss the rest of the season.
CB Dexter McCleon could end up back in the starting lineup against Denver after losing his starting job following a toasting against Jacksonville Oct. 17. But whether McCleon starts over William Bartee, badly burned in the Tennessee win last week, may be immaterial as the Chiefs likely will play a good deal of nickel defense against the Broncos, meaning both McCleon and Bartee will play extensively.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Broncos: - The Broncos have to deal with the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line this week, and Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer wasn't shy about what he believes are shady tactics by Kansas City's line.
"They get by with murder," Coyer said. "That's the truth, too. I hear everybody griping about ours (linemen), but these are the worst holders I ever saw in my life. They get by with more holding than any team in this league and it's starting to aggravate me a little bit, because it's outlandish."
The Broncos have faced plenty of accusations about their line. The Broncos have put two defensive linemen out for the season with cut blocks, which re-started the controversy about Denver's cut blocking tactics.
Coyer didn't intimate that the Chiefs didn't have talented linemen, only that they bend the rules.
"They don't need to (hold), they're that good. But they're awful," Coyer said. "They grab, they hold, and sooner or later these guys (referees) are going to have to start evening this game up a little bit. Because truly, they talk about our guys, but this is outlandish. It truly is."
The Broncos allowed Kansas City's Priest Holmes to rush for 151 yards in the first meeting between the teams this season, the most yards a running back has gained against Denver this year. Coyer conceded that Kansas City's line is a big reason the Chiefs have continued success running the ball, even without Holmes who is out for the season with a knee injury.
"They're talented, big-time linemen, but they cheat," Coyer said.
Chiefs: - Larry Johnson doesn't give a flip about the Finger Flap -- the controversy in Denver created when Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer flipped off a heckler at Invesco Field last week.
What's all the hubbub, Johnson asked rhetorically. It happens more than you might think.
"I've done that many times this season, but they don't put the camera on me because I'm not starting," Johnson said Thursday when asked if he would handle a heckler the same way Plummer did. "I do it in visiting stadiums like Oakland when people mouth off, just to make fun of them.
"They expect us not to do that, but I don't care. I'm not starting; I've got nothing to worry about."
That was Johnson's way of saying a couple of things in his usual uncompromising way. One, that he doesn't care much for customer relations. And two, he clearly isn't happy about having to wait 1 3/4 seasons to get his first start with the Kansas City Chiefs.
But that will change Sunday when Denver comes to town. With Derrick Blaylock, the backup to the injured Priest Holmes, experiencing a mild knee injury himself, Johnson will be Kansas City's only healthy halfback against the Broncos.
It's an opportunity the vocally frustrated Johnson has been awaiting -- one he suggests is long overdue.
"I wasn't brought here to be a No. 3 back. I deserve to be more than that," Johnson said in an interview earlier this week with Kansas City station KCSP. he added. "I understand that you've got to pay your dues, but I've been paying my dues since high school and college. Now I'm ready to go to the bank and cash in."
After running for 222 yards and three touchdowns while adding 75 yards on five receptions with one more TD in his last two games -- both Kansas City victories -- Johnson looks ready to be a featured back.
"Now they've opened the door and they can't close it because I've stuck my foot in the door," he said. "I just want to keep going and going. I just wish there were six more games at end of season instead of three."