After climbing to the top of the AFC West just three weeks ago, the Denver Broncos are teetering on the brink of playoff elimination.
The Broncos look to keep their slim division title hopes alive and continue their home dominance over the slumping Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Invesco Field.
With a 34-20 home win over Tennessee on Nov. 19, Denver moved into a first-place tie with San Diego atop the AFC West. Since then, the Broncos (5-7) have lost two straight while the Chargers have won their last two to take control of the division.
Denver will be eliminated from AFC West contention with a loss in this game coupled with a San Diego win at Tennessee on Sunday. The Broncos, who won the West in 2005, are two games back of the final wild-card spot in the AFC and could be out of the playoff hunt altogether as early as next week if they lose this game.
"Things can happen for us," cornerback Dre' Bly said. "But we have to win games. If we don't win games, then nothing will happen."
Denver is coming off a 34-20 loss at Oakland last Sunday, committing four turnovers that led to 24 points for the Raiders. The Broncos also had a special-teams blunder when Cecil Sapp ran into the punter to keep a touchdown drive alive.
"Interceptions and fumbles, you can't win in this league playing like that," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "I'm sure mathematically we're still in it, but we'll have to play much better than we did today if we expect to get into the postseason."
The Broncos hope to get their season back on track with a favorable home matchup against Kansas City.
Denver has never lost to the Chiefs at Invesco Field, which opened in 2001, having won six straight home games over them since a 23-22 loss on Sept. 24, 2000. The Broncos have won 20 of their last 24 against Kansas City in Denver.
The Broncos beat the Chiefs 27-11 at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 11, and have not swept the season series since 2002.
Denver quarterback Jay Cutler was 17-of-29 for 192 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Chiefs last month. He has completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 712 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three home games.
Cutler struggled in last week's loss, though, going 16-of-32 for 214 yards and two interceptions.
Running back Travis Henry returned to Denver's lineup last week after missing the previous three games with a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He finished with 49 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, but also fumbled twice.
On Tuesday, Henry won his appeal of a one-year suspension over a failed drug test.
Henry hasn't had a 100-yard game since Week 4, and hopes for a breakout game against the Chiefs. He has rushed for 250 yards on 46 carries in two career games against them.
Kansas City (4-8) also was in the thick of the AFC West title chase not long ago, but now it's tied with Oakland for last place.
The Chiefs lost to San Diego 24-10 last Sunday to drop their fifth straight game after starting 4-3.
"It is flat-out embarrassing," said tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had 10 catches for 140 yards. "I don't think I've lost five games in a row as a Chief. It's frustrating, because I feel like we're a lot better team than what we're playing right now."
This is Kansas City's longest losing streak since a five-game skid in 2000. The team has not dropped six in a row since the 1998 season, Gonzalez's second in the NFL.
Kansas City's stumbling offense is a big reason for its struggles. The Chiefs are third-worst in both total offense (280.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (14.3 points per game), and have scored just 17 points after halftime over their last three games. They have not scored in the fourth quarter in four straight games.
"We just can't seem to score any points in the fourth quarter coming down the stretch," coach Herm Edwards said.
Edwards is hoping quarterback Brodie Croyle, who had started two games but was held out against the Chargers with a deep bruise in his back, will be available to play this week.
Croyle came off the bench in Kansas City's loss to Denver last month after Damon Huard was injured, finishing 17-of-30 for 162 yards with an interception. He threw for 314 yards, one TD and one pick in his last two starts.
Edwards also said running back Larry Johnson would probably be out for the fifth straight game with an injured foot.
The Chiefs have the fourth-worst rushing offense in the league (85.6 ypg), but rookie Kolby Smith has run for 233 yards and two touchdowns in two games since taking over the starting running back position.
The Broncos have the NFL's second-worst run defense (149.1 ypg), but held Kansas City to an opponent season-low 67 yards in the last meeting.