Broncos-Texans Preview

Still in good position to claim home-field advantage throughout

the playoffs, the Denver Broncos are poised to move on from last

week’s humbling defeat.

The visiting Broncos can possibly clinch a division title and

the No. 1 seed in the conference when they try to extend the

Houston Texans’ team-worst losing streak Sunday.

Denver (11-3) entered last Thursday’s home game with San Diego

averaging league highs of 39.6 points and 465.6 yards, but was held

to a season-low 295 while scoring its fewest points of 2013 in a

27-20 loss. Fortunately for the playoff-bound Broncos, New England

couldn’t overtake them for the top spot in the AFC as it lost to

Miami on Sunday.

Tied with Kansas City atop the West Division, Denver owns the

tiebreaker after sweeping that season series and can clinch the

division with a victory and a Chiefs loss to Indianapolis. The

Broncos can secure the No. 1 seed for the second straight season

with a win, plus a Kansas City loss and a New England defeat or tie

at Baltimore.

“I think it’s a little brighter because we know what we’ve got

to do to get home-field advantage: we’ve just got to keep winning,”

said receiver Andre Caldwell, who scored both Denver touchdowns

against the Chargers.

“Even though we lost, we’re still in the same position that we

were in before that game. We’ve just got to handle our business and

everything will fall in place.”

The Broncos would appear to be in good position going forward

against Houston (2-12) and Oakland, which is 4-10.

“Of course it feels better to control your own destiny,”

defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “But you don’t want any

(more) scares like that. We want teams to come through Denver. The

good thing is we’re in control of that again and we’ve got to

handle our business.”

The Broncos’ top priority will be improving a defense that ranks

23rd with 371.5 yards allowed per contest. Denver yielded its first

100-yard rusher of the season when Ryan Mathews gained 127 last

week.

The Chargers earned 103 of their 177 rushing yards on first

down, went 6 of 12 on third and kept the ball for 38:49 – the

longest by a Denver opponent this season.

“If you don’t get off on third down, teams can run the ball on

you,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard told the Broncos’ official

website. “That’s something that we have to continue to get better

at. We can’t let a team control the clock on us like that.”

In an attempt to solidify a defensive front that’s lost tackles

Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson to health issues, Denver signed end

Jeremy Mincey after he was released by Jacksonville.

The Broncos were held to a season-low 18 rushing yards last week

after averaging 188.7 in the previous three games. Without Wes

Welker (concussion) and his team-high 18 third-down receptions, the

Broncos converted two of nine third downs. Eric Decker had two

catches for 42 yards after he totaled 16 for 291 and five TDs in

the previous two.

Denver, though, appears to have a good shot to bounce back in a

big way this week. Three shy of Tom Brady’s single-season NFL

record of 50 TD passes, Manning is 16-3 against the Texans. He

threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns versus Houston last Sept.

23, though the Broncos lost 31-25 at home.

“He’s having a tremendous year, one of the greatest years ever,”

interim coach Wade Phillips said. ”It’s going to be a big

challenge for us. We’re going to have to step up our defensive

play, especially our pass defense.”

Mired in a 12-game skid that is the league’s longest

single-season slide since the Colts started 0-13 in 2011, Houston

ranks fourth in the NFL with 304.2 yards allowed per game but 25th

with 26.8 points given up. The Texans allowed 20 first-half points

last Sunday in a 25-3 road loss to Indianapolis, a team that scored

24 combined in the first two quarters of its previous six

contests.

Quarterback Case Keenum won’t play due to a sprained right

thumb, with Matt Schaub getting the nod for an offense that’s been

held without TD four times this season. The last time the

beleaguered veteran played, taking over late in a game against

Oakland on Nov. 17 when Keenum was struggling, the home crowd booed

Schaub so loudly when he entered the game that the offense was

forced to use a silent count.

”I’m not worried about that because I know a majority of our

fans are with us no matter what and they’ve stuck through no matter

what,” Phillips said. ”We appreciate them. This is our last home

game, so we need a lot of support and I think we’ll get it.”

Running back Ben Tate was placed on injured reserve after

re-injuring one of the four broken ribs he sustained in Week 8.

Dennis Johnson will start in his place.

Houston star receiver Andre Johnson needs one catch for a second

straight 100-reception season and fifth in his stellar 11-year

career. He had two catches for 72 yards – 60 coming on a TD catch –

against the Broncos in 2012.