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Broncos Set for Christmas Eve Tilt

Posted Dec 23, 2011

The Denver Broncos are ready for a Week 16 matchup in Buffalo against the Bills.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Their focus is squarely on Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, but the Broncos aren’t oblivious to the playoff implications.

“Obviously,” wide receiver Eric Decker said, “we know what’s at stake.”

With two games left in the regular season, the AFC West-leading Broncos are looking to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2005.

Despite a 41-23 loss to New England last week, Denver (8-6) holds a one-game lead in the division over the Raiders and Chargers. A victory over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium tomorrow coupled with an Oakland loss or tie in Kansas City would clinch the division for the Broncos.

Of course, no one in the Denver locker room is thinking that far ahead.

“We’re just focused on this next one in Buffalo,” quarterback Tim Tebow said. “And it’s one that we need to win.”

The Bills (5-9) looked at one time like they’d be fighting for an AFC playoff spot.

Buffalo got off to a great start this year, winning five of their first seven games. Since, the Bills have lost seven straight, eliminating them from postseason contention.

But safety Brian Dawkins knows the Bills are eager for a win Saturday.

“You don’t play in the NFL if you don’t have pride in yourself, so regardless of your record, they’re going to come out and play,” Dawkins said. “They want to win.”

The Bills employ plenty of speed at the skill positions, with C.J. Spiller (Buffalo’s 2010 first round pick, ninth overall) in the backfield and Stevie Johnson split out wide.

Spiller has taken over for running back Fred Jackson, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 11. At the time, Jackson was the NFL’s leading rusher and the Bills have struggled without him carrying the load.

But the Broncos are well aware of the challenges Spiller and his top-notch speed can present in his own right.

“He’s a very skilled player—both when you hand it to him and throw it to him,” Head Coach John Fox said. “So there’s not a big drop off.”

Johnson, meanwhile, has been quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite target this season, leading Buffalo in catches (68), receiving yards (872) and receiving touchdowns (6).

Cornerback Champ Bailey noted Johnson’s ability to beat jams at the line of scrimmage and use his speed to get downfield for long gains. Bailey and the Denver secondary are determined to keep Johnson bottled up Saturday.

“One thing he’s good at is getting off the ball and making people kind of look stupid,” Bailey said. “If we can just limit those plays, especially down the field, we can do a good job against him.”

The Broncos offense was happy with a strong start it put forth in last week’s loss to New England, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal on the first three drives, but three quick lost fumbles spoiled that effort.

With that in mind, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy wants to see a mistake-free brand of football from his unit in Buffalo.

“We got 17 quick points, and the next thing you know we have two turnovers,” McCoy said, referring the first half against New England. “We stopped ourselves, really.”

“It’s definitely something we’ve addressed as a staff, and we have to stop that in a hurry.”

Rookie defense lineman Marcel Dareus and his 5.5 sacks will be one of the Bills trying to create more problems for the Broncos offense.

Dareus was selected third overall in the 2011 draft -- one pick behind Broncos’ rookie linebacker Von Miller, who leads all AFC rookies with 11.5 sacks -- and the Denver coaching staff knew the 340-pound lineman was primed for success at the next level.

“If they would have let us, I would have taken both of them, but they didn’t let us do that,” Fox said of drafting Miller over Dareus. “(Dareus) is playing great football for Buffalo. He’s an excellent player.”

“Size, strength and speed. He’s got it all,” McCoy said. “It’s going to be a challenge for the guys inside, and we have to plan for that. They’ve got to be ready for that and have their best game against him.”

With Christmas approaching, it’s safe to say linebacker Joe Mays and his teammates all have one thing on the top of their wish list as they head to Buffalo for this critical Week 16 matchup.

“That’s very easy,” Mays said. “A win.”