Broncos try to edge closer to another postseason berth

(SportsNetwork.com) - A whole lot has to break their way, but the Denver Broncos could find themselves back in the playoffs by the end of Week 14. The Broncos try to move one step closer to a postseason berth on Sunday when they welcome the Buffalo Bills to Sports Authority Field.

Denver can get back to the postseason for the fourth straight year with a win over the Bills plus losses from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, as well as a loss or tie from Houston. They can also get in under the same scenario if Kansas City ties, as long as San Diego also loses.

Needless to say, the champagne will probably be on ice for another week or so.

Denver's offense got itself untracked this past Sunday, as Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and C.J. Anderson shined once again running the ball to help the Broncos to a wire-to-wire 29-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Manning passed for a season-low 179 yards on 17-of-34 efficiency, but Anderson was the story in Denver's 11th straight road win against an AFC West foe. The second-year running back out of California rushed for a career-high 168 yards on 32 carries, a week after gashing up Miami's defense for 167 in a win over the Dolphins.

"I think you need to be able to win different types of football games," Manning said. "We wanted to establish the run."

Anderson's last two games were the two best rushing performances this season. Montee Ball, who started the season as Denver's lead back, had a season-high 67 yards in Week 1 and Ronnie Hillman went for 109 yards on Oct. 23.

"I like it," Manning said. "We kept the defense on their heels."

Demaryius Thomas and Anderson caught TD passes and Connor Barth, whom Denver (9-3) signed on Tuesday to replace rookie kicker Brandon McManus, went 5- for-5 on field goals in his debut with the team. McManus was waived after hitting just 3-for-6 over his last five games.

Thomas has posted 88 receptions for 1,255 yards with 10 touchdowns this season to become just the sixth player in NFL history to reach 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in three consecutive years.

With 145 more receiving yards, Thomas will join Marvin Harrison (4) and Jerry Rice (3) as the only player in league history with three straight seasons totaling at least 1,400 yards receiving and 10 receiving scores.

Manning could have another weapon back at his disposal on Sunday, as tight end Julius Thomas, who leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions, could be back after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

Buffalo also stayed in the AFC playoff hunt on Sunday, as Kyle Orton threw a touchdown pass, Dan Carpenter kicked four field goals in the fourth quarter and the Bills beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-10.

Orton finished 17-of-31 for 190 yards with two interceptions.

Fred Jackson had 70 yards on 21 carries for the Bills (7-5), who returned to Ralph Wilson Stadium after last Sunday's scheduled home game was played a day later in Detroit after more than six feet of snow fell on the southern reaches of the Buffalo area.

A win on Sunday would give the Bills eight wins in a season for the first time since going 9-7 in 2004. Of course, Buffalo is trying for its first postseason berth since 1999.

After losing five straight in the series Denver has won the last two times it has played Buffalo, but it hasn't faced the Bills since 2011.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Anderson has certainly made life easier for Manning the past few weeks, posting a league-best 658 yards from scrimmage - 113 more than anyone else - while averaging 5.68 ypc over the last two weeks.

Denver has won its last 11 games when it goes over 100 yards. Conversely, the Broncos have averaged just 37.5 yards on the ground in their three losses.

"I like it," Manning said after the win over Kansas City. "We kept the defense on their heels."

That trend could continue this week, as the Bills have allowed 125.2 ypg on the ground and 4.85 ypc over the past six weeks. They had been one of the stingiest defenses in the league through their first six games when they held opponents to 67.5 yards and 2.79 ypc.

Regardless few teams are better up front than the Bills, who lead the league with 48 sacks. Overall, Buffalo's D is ranked fifth in the league.

The Buffalo defense will certainly have its hands full against Manning, who leads the league with 36 touchdown passes this season and has thrown one in 51 straight games.

"He's a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, and I think that says enough right there," coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. "Not to compare the two, but we play against a Hall-of-Fame quarterback twice a year in (Tom) Brady. It's the same thing. It's challenging.

"You've got to just make sure you try to contain them. Obviously, it's difficult. You've got to switch things up; you can't keep things the same. If they get hot, then you can get yourself in trouble."

Denver has averaged 304.4 yards through the air this season, while Buffalo ranks fifth for the season (216.1 yards per game) against the pass and has limited those last six opponents to 163.0

In four of their last six games played, Buffalo has held the opposing quarterback to under 200 yards passing (one of the two games over that mark was Miami with 205 yards in Week 11). A stark contrast to the first six games when each opposing QB passed for over 200 yards.

"In the beginning of the year, we had a couple new fresh faces in the secondary that we had to work with. So we had to get used to working with each other," said Buffalo safety Da'Norris Searcy, who had two interceptions in the win over Cleveland. "And now that we've been together for 12 games, we know how each other plays so now we just feed off each other. We know where each other is going to be so it makes it easier on the back end. Everybody is holding each other accountable and we're all out here getting the job done."

Buffalo's defense now sits second in the league with 25 takeaways behind Houston and is tied for fourth in interceptions with 15.

Look for the Bills to take a page out of St. Louis' book in trying to defend Manning. The Rams confused the future Hall of Famer all afternoon back on Nov. 16 by disguising their coverages by waiting until the last possible moment before the snap to show what they actually were doing. By then, Manning had no time to adjust. He wound up throwing two interceptions, and only one touchdown, and finished with a season-low passer rating of 75.3.

"It's not just one person," Marrone said. "That's the difficult part about it when you play these types of quarterbacks. You go into a game and you want to take somebody away and, next thing you know, you're getting your butt kicked by a guy that wasn't as productive the week before or two weeks before."

OVERALL ANALYSIS

In Anderson Denver has found a new way to move the ball and that just makes Manning even more dangerous. The Bills defense certainly gets after the quarterback, but getting to Manning will be tough since he has only been brought down 13 times this season. The Bills secondary has been very good in recent weeks, but, again, Manning isn't Brian Hoyer. He is going to give the Bills fits, especially if he has Julius Thomas back in the lineup.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Denver 35, Buffalo 17