The banged-up Denver Broncos now have an inside track on one of the top two seeds for the AFC playoffs and can secure home-field advantage if they win out.
That means avoiding a lapse Sunday against the visiting Oakland Raiders with a potential to clinch a fifth consecutive division title at stake.
Denver moved into second place in the AFC with a 17-3 win in San Diego last weekend and New England's second consecutive defeat. The Broncos hold the advantage over the Patriots thanks to their 30-24 overtime win Nov. 29.
Denver is also tied with Cincinnati at 10-2 and will face the Bengals on Dec. 28.
“Our focus will continue to be day to day,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “This league changes every week so we have to stay focused on ourselves.”
In the meantime, the Broncos will try to extend their franchise-best run of AFC West titles with a ninth consecutive win against Oakland (5-7) and a Kansas City loss or tie against San Diego on Sunday. They would also win the division with a tie and a Chiefs loss.
The Broncos can secure at least a playoff spot if they beat the Raiders and either Pittsburgh or the New York Jets lose.
Denver, though, is also dealing with a bevy of injuries from last week's game. Among their ailing players are running back C.J. Anderson (ankle), tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), linebacker Danny Trevathan (concussion), as well as safeties David Bruton Jr. (knee) and Omar Bolden (hamstring).
The Broncos were already missing safety T.J. Ward (ankle), who might sit out for a second straight game. To shore up a depleted secondary, the team signed Shiloh Keo, who played under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips while in Houston.
“We're in a situation at a few spots where we're just going to have to really (say), 'Look, it's going to be a week-to-week process for us,' getting to next Sunday and finding a way to be our best against the Raiders,” Kubiak said. “We've got some issues to deal with.”
Of course, the most notable name on Denver's injured list is Peyton Manning, who is expected to sit out another week because of a torn plantar fascia. The Broncos have won three in a row with Brock Osweiler as their starter, but he threw for just 166 yards last week.
The Broncos might get DeMarcus Ware back after a four-game absence due to an ailing back and nose tackle Sylvester Williams could return from an ankle injury that kept him out last week.
Denver has totaled 11 sacks even with Ware out and had four against the Chargers with Von Miller collecting a pair.
Right guard Louis Vasquez might play after being held out with a groin injury in San Diego.
Denver beat Oakland 16-10 on Oct. 11 by turning three turnovers and a blocked field goal into 13 points. Chris Harris Jr. had the most important takeaway with a 74-yard interception return for a score to put the Broncos up nine midway through the fourth quarter.
Charles Woodson intercepted Manning twice but the Raiders couldn't get any points out of those turnovers.
“They gave us everything we could handle the first time around,” Kubiak said. “Obviously we struggled and found a way to get out of there with a win.”
The Raiders earned back-to-back wins after that game but have lost four of five since then. Derek Carr's three interceptions in the fourth quarter allowed Kansas City to score the final 20 points in a 34-20 defeat last Sunday.
“The guy is super talented. He's taken all the responsibility that he needs to. I completely believe in the young man and I'm confident that he'll learn from that experience and be stronger going forward,” coach Jack Del Rio said.
With 26 touchdowns, Carr remains on pace to challenge Daryle Lamonica's franchise-record 34 in 1969, Oakland's last AFL season. Jeff George's 29 TDs in 1997 are the most for the Raiders since they joined the NFL.
Carr has totaled four TDs and four interceptions in his three career games against the Broncos and threw one apiece in a 47-14 drubbing in Denver on Dec. 28.
The Broncos have won their last three home games against Oakland by a combined 121-41.
- Brock Osweiler
- C.J. Anderson
- Charles Woodson
- Chris Harris
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Danny Trevathan
- David Bruton Jr.
- DeMarcus Ware
- Denver Broncos
- Louis Vasquez
- Oakland Raiders
- Omar Bolden
- Peyton Manning
- Shiloh Keo
- Sylvester Williams
- T.J. Ward
- Vernon Davis
- Von Miller