The Denver Broncos (8-7) can clinch the AFC West division title with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs (6-9) on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, but their former starting quarterback may stand in the way.
After beginning the season with a 1-4 record, Denver head coach John Fox caved to public pressure and replaced Kyle Orton with Tim Tebow, and the Broncos proceeded to win seven of their next eight games.
Orton moved on to the Chiefs and has posted a total of 599 passing yards in two games, after recovering from a finger injury. With Orton under center, Kansas City handed the Green Bay Packers their lone loss of the season, and almost escaped with a victory over the Oakland Raiders last week.
The quarterback matchup will be the subject most in focus when the surging Orton faces Tebow, his former backup. Orton looks to spoil Denver's improbable playoff run, while Tebow attempts to rebound from two subpar performances and take the Broncos back to postseason competition for the first time since 2005.
We knew we may have to face him down the line, and we kind of took that risk, said Broncos vice president John Elway, about the team's decision to cut Orton.
Orton may have a tough task ahead of him. The Broncos' defense is due for a big game after conceding 451 yards to the New England Patriots and 351 yards to the Buffalo Bills. Prior to those games, the defense had been stellar. Von Miller, who appears to be the front-runner for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, had only one tackle against the Bills, so Denver can probably expect more out of their star linebacker in the regular-season finale.
While both quarterbacks will receive a great deal of attention, the game could very well be decided on the ground. Kansas City featured a strong running game against the Raiders on Saturday, and the Chiefs will probably go back to it against the Broncos.
However, running back Jackie Battle will be sidelined, which means veteran Thomas Jones should receive the bulk of the carries. Dexter McCluster should also be heavily involved in the offense, as the all-purpose back has 758 total yards on the season.
Denver will likely give plenty of carries to leading rusher Willis McGahee, who will face a Kansas City rush defense that ranks 23rd in the NFL. The veteran running back has gone three straight games without amassing 100 yards, but he recently stated he is healthy after lingering injuries.
When the two clubs met on Nov. 13 at Arrowhead Stadium, Lance Ball had 30 carries, but managed only 96 yards. Meanwhile, Tebow completed only two passes, but the Broncos won anyway, 17-10.
Sports Authority Field should be boisterous in the last game of the season, with the Broncos' playoff hopes on the line and with the team having defeated the Chiefs in nine of their last 10 matchups at home.
Denver can also win the AFC West if Oakland loses to San Diego.
LINE: The Broncos' are favored by 3.5 points
PREDICTION: Tebow threw only eight passes the last time these two teams met, so it won't be going out on much of a limb to say he is expected to throw the ball more on Sunday. However, Denver will likely favor the ground game over the passing game, as Tebow has proven to be an effective scrambler and McGahee is healthy. The Chiefs will play hard, but don't expect Orton to throw deep, as head coach Romeo Crennel has preferred a conservative approach. In the end, Denver wants this game more and they seem to have the Chiefs' number at home.
PREDICTED SCORE: Broncos over Chiefs, 24-14