The Denver Broncos don't like their standing in the AFC West, but they're even more disappointed by their inconsistent play.
The St. Louis Rams feel they have a shot at the NFC West title if they can change the kind of consistency they've had on the road.
Losers in five of six overall, the Broncos will try to extend their home winning streak over NFC opponents to seven Sunday when they take on a Rams team seeking its first road victory in more than a year.
Denver (3-7) is in the West cellar, two games behind San Diego and Oakland and three back of Kansas City. The Broncos haven't won consecutive games since Nov. 26-Dec. 6 of last season.
"We know we're in a tough spot. We're not hiding from that," quarterback Kyle Orton said following Monday's 35-14 loss at San Diego. "But I think your first goal as a team has to be to just improve and play better football on a consistent basis. Until we start doing that, where we're at in the standings is basically null and void."
Orton ranks third in the NFL in passing yards with 3,023, but with an offensive line that has yielded 26 sacks - second-most in the AFC - even his performances have been up-and-down. After throwing for a career-high four touchdowns without being sacked in a 49-29 home win over Kansas City on Nov. 14, Orton was held to 217 yards and sacked five times Monday.
Orton could be under pressure again with rookie offensive lineman J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles facing Rams defensive ends James Hall (team-high 7 1/2 sacks) and Chris Long (5 1/2). St. Louis is sixth in the NFL with 28 sacks.
With the Broncos' playoff chances fading, some are wondering whether coach Josh McDaniels will soon replace Orton with first-round pick Tim Tebow, who has thrown one pass this season.
"I don't know. I'm not willing to go there," McDaniels said. "That's not the case right now, so we will think about that when that happens. But it's not on our minds right now."
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has no doubt who he wants to have starting under center. Top overall pick Sam Bradford has completed 65.3 percent of his passes with eight TDs and one interception in the last five games.
He set an NFL rookie record in last Sunday's 34-17 home loss to Atlanta by throwing his 169th consecutive pass without an interception, though that streak ended with 3:24 to play.
While Bradford has enjoyed a solid rookie year, he has yet to experience a road win in four chances. St. Louis (4-6) hasn't had one since a 17-10 victory at Detroit on Nov. 1, 2009 - the team's only win in its last 17 road games.
Three of this year's losses away from home have been by three points or less, and Spagnuolo feels it's just a matter of time before his 23-year-old quarterback comes through on the road.
"If you find yourself in that situation again, I think the guys will have confidence," Spagnuolo said after Bradford went 7 for 9 for 69 yards on the game-tying fourth-quarter drive in a 23-20 overtime loss at San Francisco on Nov. 14.
"I see that in him and I see the guys around him getting more confident."
Beginning a stretch of three in a row on the road, the Rams will need that confidence as they try to keep pressure on West-leading Seattle (5-5).
"We have to keep playing hard because the division is still wide open," defensive tackle Fred Robbins told the Rams' official website. "So we can't quit now."
With St. Louis limited to 54 offensive plays Sunday, Steven Jackson carried just 11 times for 54 yards. The Rams' all-time leading rusher could have a bigger impact against the Broncos' 31st-ranked run defense, which allows 143.5 yards per game.
Jackson ran for 121 yards in the teams' last meeting, lifting St. Louis to an 18-10 home win Sept. 10, 2006.
The Rams, though, have lost three straight in Denver since a 13-9 victory Sept. 6, 1979.