After suffering a defeat last Thursday which totally took Denver (11-3) out of their game plan, the Broncos can move one step closer to clinching the AFC West this afternoon when they visit horrible Houston (2-12). If Denver can knock off Houston and Indianapolis can somehow upset Kansas City, the Broncos will take the division since they swept the season series over the Chiefs. Denver 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. However New England couldn't overtake them for the top spot in the AFC as it lost to Miami.
MVP favorite Peyton Manning (393/580 4811 47 TD 10 INT) saw San Diego adapt to a scheme that grinded out long sustaining drives with methodical success on the ground and through the air. Holding a distinct advantage in time of possession, it abandoned the quick strike intentions of Manning and company averting a shootout. The Chargers also executed a successful pass rush and loaded the box up front limiting Denver to just 18 rushing yards. Denver's defense allowed Ryan Matthews to gain 127 yards rushing, the first time this season they allowed an opposing back to eclipse 100 yards. Yielding 372 yards per contest which ranks 23rd in the NFL, Houston could be a good tuneup for the postseason to improve in that category.
While Houston allows nearly 29 points per game, Manning will look to take advantage of getting their offense back on track. Demaryius Thomas (78-1194 11 TD) fell victim to several cover 2 patterns and caught only 4 passes for 45 yards in week 15. Eric Decker (73-1130 8 TD) will also have to adjust against a Houston secondary that boasts the second ranked pass defense in the league yielding only 184 yards per contest. Denver will once again be without Wes Welker (73-778 10 TD) due to a concussion, so Julius Thomas (54-674 11 TD) will have to step up despite playing through a knee injury. Knowshon Moreno (224-939 4.2 10 TD) and Montee Ball (106-455 4.3 4 TD) need to give the ground game a boost after virtually no impact last week.
Houston is mired in a 12-game skid that is the league's longest single-season slide since the Colts started 0-13 in 2011. Case Keenum (137/253 1760 9 TD 6 INT) won't play due to a sprained right thumb, with Matt Schaub (179/287 1905 9 TD 10 INT) getting the nod for an offense that's been held without TD four times this season. Top target Andre Johnson (99-1295 5 TD) missed practice this week with a wrist injury but is listed as probable. Indianapolis held Johnson to just 18 yards receiving in their win during week 15. DeAndre Hopkins (47-759 2 TD) will look to take advantage of a Denver pass defense that ranks 27th in the league giving up 266 yards per game. Garret Graham (49-545 5 TD) is listed as questionable dealing with a hamstring injury. There's not much security in the running game to protect Schaub especially if he is off his game. Ben Tate (181-771 4.3 4 TD) is out for the season due to a rib injury leaving Dennis Johnson (37-154 4.2) with the brunt of the touches.
With Denver having 10 days to prepare, Houston is an absolute mess on both sides of the ball. Denver will revert back to their winning ways by establishing the run early leaving Manning to effectively throw the ball down the field. Few teams in the league have been able to keep pace with the outstanding offensive attack from Denver this season. They are averaging 38.2 points per game, and the offense has barely been slowed down when playing on the road. While Houston has a knack for stepping up to the level of their competition, the Broncos have a lot more to play for than just pride. Denver pulls away in the second half to a convincing triumph sending Houston to their unlucky 13th straight defeat.