12F Sports Authority Fld, Denver, CO
Though several key players are dealing with injuries, one very important member of the Denver Broncos will return to the field Sunday.
Four weeks after open-heart surgery, coach John Fox will be back on the sideline when the Broncos host the Tennessee Titans with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
"Obviously, the doctors feel good about me getting back to work," Fox said. "I actually would have preferred to be back sooner, but there was a pretty hard deadline of four weeks post-surgery and I honored that and here I am."
Interim coach Jack Del Rio, who led the team to a 3-1 record in Fox's absence, will return to his duties as defensive coordinator.
The Broncos (10-2) welcome their coach back after a critical victory last week, 35-28 over Kansas City that gave them a one-game lead over the second-place Chiefs in the AFC West. Peyton Manning threw for 405 yards and five touchdowns - four to Eric Decker - as Denver grabbed the tiebreaker over Kansas City and took control of the race for the top seed in the conference.
The Broncos, which won without four defensive starters, can secure a postseason berth with a win or tie Sunday. They'll also get in if Miami or Baltimore loses or ties.
Derek Wolfe was placed on injured reserve and fellow defensive lineman Derek Wolfe is uncertain to return this season after being hospitalized Friday with seizure-like symptoms suffered on the way to Kansas City. Defensive backs Rahim Moore and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie are uncertain for this game.
Manning's 41 touchdowns are 12 more than anyone else's total. He's thrown at least seven to five teammates.
"I think he showed people why he's so great," said Decker, the AFC offensive player of the week. "How we run our offense, we're very versatile as far as going inside, outside, left, right, whatever it may be."
Tennessee could provide a test as it has the seventh-best pass defense in the NFL at 212.6 yards allowed per game. The Titans have recorded 31 sacks, and they'll face a Denver team that's allowed 15 to tie Detroit for the fewest in the league.
The bigger issue for Manning, however, may not be the Titans defense. Much has been made of his struggles in cold weather, and Sunday's forecast calls for high temperatures in the teens and a chance of snow.
Manning has a 7-6 regular-season record when the gametime temperature is below 40 degrees, the most recent such contest being a 34-31 loss to New England on Nov. 24 in which he threw for a season-low 150 yards and went 19 of 36.
"We'll definitely be outside and probably the worse the weather, the better for us," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "Hopefully there's a big snowstorm to give us a great chance to win."
The Titans (5-7) need a victory to stay in the thick of the wild-card hunt. A 22-14 loss to Indianapolis last week likely ended their chances of winning the AFC South, as they're three games behind the Colts with four to play. Tennessee, though, is one game out of the sixth and final seed in the AFC.
"If everyone wins out, then we're out. I guess that's how it works," Munchak said. "All we can do, again, is the obvious. You got to win all four games and hope they lose one, a couple teams that are ahead of you. We got a couple tough ones ahead. We've made it harder without a doubt, so we have to win a game this weekend which most people don't think we have a chance to win."
Mistakes killed the Titans' chances of winning last week. Ryan Fitzpatrick had four turnovers, including an interception with 33 seconds remaining after driving into Colts territory. Tennessee also had six penalties for 74 yards.
"That's been our biggest thing all season," defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. "Mental errors when it comes to crunch time we just can't snap out of it and get these wins."
Titans tight end Delanie Walker is uncertain to play Sunday. Walker, second on the team with 45 receptions, suffered a concussion last week and will be reviewed through the league's concussion protocol system.