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Broncos Notebook: Surging Broncos not looking ahead, focused solely on matchup vs. Texans

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' 29-12 win over the Browns has thrust them into the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Through 12 weeks, the Broncos, Texans and Colts are all 6-5 and jockeying for the third and final wild-card spot.

And yet, the Broncos' postseason chances — 36 percent, according to the New York Times — are of little concern at Centura Health Training Center.

The Broncos' Week 13 matchup against the Texans may eventually hold significant weight in AFC tiebreakers, but Head Coach Sean Payton and the Broncos are more focused on getting another win rather than which team said win comes against.

"I'm just focused on what do we have to do to win this game," Payton said. "I say that because it's that time of the year, and rightfully so where, hey, there's a list of others [in the playoff race]. That [Browns] team yesterday was probably very similar, right? A 7-3 AFC team. But it's still about you winning. In other words, we could be playing an NFC team and yet it's still a unit and it matters. It just so happens that you're playing an AFC team that's a contender. You can say it's worth a little bit more, but it's still about here and what we're doing here during the work week as we prepare to play.

"We've put ourselves in a position where each of these games becomes more and more important, but the focus has to be strictly on this one."

Payton said he knows it's a bit of a cliche to discuss a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but he emphasized the need for the Broncos' focus to be internal.

"I think it's so important to just immerse yourselves in the things you can control," Payton said, "and the things you can't control, man, let's not waste any battery life on those things."

The Broncos can control their preparation for a matchup against a Houston team that had won four of its last five before a Week 12 loss to the Jaguars. The Texans rallied on Sunday and nearly overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime and potentially take control of the division.

As they did before a "Monday Night Football" win over Buffalo, the Broncos will paint the opponent's logo on their practice field and prepare for a critical road matchup.

"We're playing on the road, [and] it's a team that's young [and] talented," Payton said of his message to his team. "They came off a tough loss this past weekend. And here are the facts about who we're playing and then, all right, what do we have to do to play well in this game? And then kind of go from there."

Payton said he has not put up a slide with the AFC playoff standings to emphasize the importance of the game, as he believes each game carries inherent weight at this point in the season.

"I just haven't done that, because I don't know that that helps," Payton said. "It's nothing that I don't think any of these players don't already know. These games are important. When you dig yourself in a hole at the start of the season, then there's a little less wiggle room down the stretch."

The Broncos, to their credit, seem to have embraced Payton's message as they approach the final six games of the regular season.

"You can't look too far ahead," outside linebacker Nik Bonitto said. "You just want to take it one day, one game at a time. I feel like that's really been the message. Just worrying about the next practice and then keep going off of that. Obviously we'll get to the game when it comes, but it all starts during the week. We can't look too far ahead."


Bonitto recorded 1.5 sacks against the Browns, which pushed him to seven sacks through the Broncos' first 11 games. And while Bonitto did not record a sack from Weeks 6-11, he is still within range of a 10-sack season.

With three sacks over the final six weeks of the year, Bonitto would reach double-digit sacks and could be the first player to achieve that mark since Von Miller and Bradley Chubb each did so in 2018.

"It would definitely mean a lot to me," Bonitto said. "Obviously that's a dream going into a season, is being able to reach double-digit sacks. … I've just got to take it one game at a time, continue to follow in the pass-rush plan every week and making sure that I'm hunting smartly with the guys that we're playing against and with. [It's about] just continuing to work and just be smart in my rushes."

Regardless of his production in the final few weeks, Bonitto has already flown by his rookie total of 1.5 sacks.

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