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Horse Tracks: Who's ready for Arrowhead?

The Denver Broncos got a short break for Thanksgiving but it's back to work before a huge Sunday Night Football game in Kansas City against a very hungry Chiefs team that is once again chasing the Broncos for the AFC West title.

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Good morning, Broncos Country!

Hopefully the tryptophan had its desired effect yesterday but with no Turkey Day hangover holding you back because we've got a lot to get ready for.

Can you say Arrowhead?

Those of you who've been to a game there before know what a four-letter word that can be. Fans are crazy, and it is loud. Not just kind of loud, but Old Mile High loud. And since it's a night game against the team the Chiefs probably like to beat the most, it is going to be hostile.

I dare say if there's any real competition for a tough place for road teams to play, Arrowhead is right up there with Mile High (consider this a challenge, Broncos Country - don't let Chiefs fans get up on us with this one...make those last two home games loudest EVER!)

Fun side story - I once took a college field trip from Iowa State down to Kansas City for a Broncos-Chiefs game. I was so excited that the school was going there I didn't bother reading the fine print ... as in, "Chinese exchange student field trip." (To this day, I don't know how trip organizers let two students named Laurie and Brecke sign up. That's not even close to Bao and Cheng.)

It was highly entertaining, though, and the Broncos won. I'm sure it was because I convinced 75 Chinese students who spoke no English that the Bronco was really a dragon so they cheered with me instead of the 75,000 angry Chiefs fans.

But I digress. My point is...Arrowhead is a nightmare if you are not the home team.

As the Broncos go head-to-head with the Chiefs for the second time this year, the matchup could be one of the most important games on the remaining schedule for both teams.

Kansas City is going to be ready to bounce back from a loss in Oakland, eager to be at home and vie for the top spot in the AFC West.

Denver is coming off a hard-fought victory over Miami that proved our team still has a dominating offense when balanced but also exposed a drained defense.

We know in Kansas City their fans are going to be rowdy. It's going to be very loud. They're going to play with a lot of intensity, so we've got to match that.   -Chris Harris Jr., Cornerback

Which Broncos and Chiefs teams will show up on Sunday night?

Hopefully it's the balanced and intimidating Broncos against the discombobulated Chiefs, but that's just wishful thinking. We can bet it will be a very stout and angry Kansas City team playing at home.

Which means the Broncos better have not just an A-game, but their A+ game on offense, defense and special teams or it will be a long trip back to Denver.

And an even longer trip back to the playoffs.

"We just have to match the other team's intensity," said Chris Harris Jr. about the Sunday night game. "We know in Kansas City their fans are going to be rowdy. It's going to be very loud there. They're going to play with a lot of intensity, so we've got to match that."

Actually, it'd be better to go beyond that intensity since the Broncos have had a tough time both playing on the road and getting in rhythm early in a game, as Harris noted.

"We just didn't come out to play, plain and simple," the cornerback said of Denver's lackluster starts in recent games. "In all our road games, we kind of woke up when it was too late. That accounted for our losses."

Wake up now, Broncos. Arrowhead is no place to fall behind.

Harris, who played at Arrowhead several times during college at Kansas, is particularly looking forward to this road game.

"I love playing at Arrowhead," he said. "I feel like I've played my best games in Kansas City since I've been in the league. I love playing there. I'm excited to go and play there Sunday night."

That's good because the Broncos are going to need all the positive energy they can get after not having good showings on the road this season, winning only two of five away games this year.

"We need to play better on the road," said Peyton Manning, who has had his fair share of struggles getting the offense going on away games. "It's one of the loudest places to play, in my opinion, in the NFL. They are playing really well at home. It's a night game, and the place is going to be rocking, so it is a challenge."

Luckily it is not an unknown challenge, though the Chiefs' X-factor - Jamaal Charles - was a non-factor in the matchup at Mile High after getting injured early in the game.

Neither team is expecting that to be the case on Sunday. Whether it is Charles or Knile Davis, the Broncos D is going to have to be good again at stopping the run game while also picking up the screens and the deep balls.

"Those two are the keys," Harris Jr. said of both backs. "They want to control the game on the ground and try to keep our offense off the field. We have to be great on first and second down, stop the run and force Alex Smith to beat us in the air."

Air or not, Steven Johnson knows the defense must make the Chiefs' running attack a top priority on Sunday.

"It's a big challenge. I feel like as a linebacker corps, we've just got to pick it up. We've got to step our game up a little bit," said Johnson, who has been  the "next man up" after injuries to Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving and Brandon Marshall have decimated the linebackers. "Just understanding what our coaches are asking us to do, understanding what our teammates are asking us to do, and be the gel of the whole defense."

Terrance Knighton has the game start figured out for both Broncos offense and defense: "We want to go to Kansas City and that first drive, get three-and-out and our offense to go down and score and set the tone for the game."

I love that game plan. If only it were as easy to do as it is to say.

We'll have our hands full. Right now as a defense, we're trying to outplay the Chiefs' defense. It's really about who wants it more. -Terrance Knighton, defensive lineman

But even though Knighton and his line expect a fight, he looks at the game as the Broncos defense trying to outplay the Chiefs' defense. Given that Knighton was the reason the Broncos beat the Chiefs at Mile High two months ago when he batted down a fourth-down pass just in front of the end zone, I like his outlook.

"We'll have our hands full. They have a great back, a quarterback who doesn't turn the ball over, big targets at tight end and receiver, and a good defense. So right now as a defense we're trying to outplay their defense," Pot Roast said. "It's really about who wants it more, who goes out and executes the things they practiced all week."

While the Broncos defense is going to have to stop Charles and force Smith into poor throwing conditions, the offense is going to have pick up where it left off in the Miami game with a strong running game that begins with solid O-line play.

"Those guys have a heck of a challenge against this [Chiefs' defensive] front," Manning said, adding that a focus with the O-Line has been not getting too up or too down but just being even-keeled and focused. "They are playing against some really good players, but we're counting on them stepping up and doing their jobs and all the rest of us have to do our jobs as well."

Tight end Virgil Green is back after several weeks with a calf injury - a presence that was definitely felt last week as C.J. Anderson and the running backs enjoyed some great blocking.

"It was really good to get him back. He's one of our tough guys on this team and it was killing him not to play due to his injury," Manning said of Green, adding that he plans to reward Green for his efforts. "It was good for him to get back out there. I'm going to get him that first touchdown pass. We're going to do it. It's just a matter of time."

While all of Broncos Country will be pulling for Green - and any Bronco - to get a touchdown, there is likely to also be some collective sighs of relief knowing a veteran field goal kicker is waiting on the sidelines should 6 points not be doable.

Broncos waived Brandon McManus on Tuesday and signed former Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth who hasn't played since injuring his Achilles tendon in a charity basketball game more than a year ago.

But Barth, who "likes paddle boarding and kicking footballs," is beyond excited at his new opportunity and is ready for whatever situation the game presents.

"That is just why we play this game. That is why we kick," Barth said in his first Broncos media appearance. "I guess we like the pressure a little bit and luckily I've actually kicked in Kansas City. I kicked there my rookie year, so I have a little bit of experience in that stadium."

When Barth takes the field on Sunday he'll be wearing a jersey very familiar to Broncos fans - No. 1, the same as Jason Elam. Elam, one of the franchise's best kickers, has been an idol of Barth's.

"He's a legendary kicker here, and it was also my high school number so I wanted to, as a kicker, do him proud and represent him because he had done such a great job for this organization," Barth said. "Hopefully, he's OK with it because he's a good guy."

Kick it between the uprights, Barth, and that'll be a good start. This game is likely going to come down to the wire, and the Broncos may need some of that No. 1 magic.

Horse Tracks

Broncos preparing for challenge in Arrowhead
Under John Fox, the Broncos have had plenty of success playing in Arrowhead. Historically, the team has struggled on the road against the Chiefs and the environment on Sunday will be a challenge.

Julius Thomas returns to practice - Denver Broncos Blog - ESPN
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If Marshall can't play, young LBs are ready
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Is C.J. Anderson the Perfect Complement for Manning and Broncos' Passing Attack? | Bleacher Report
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Briefs: Virgil Green brings physical presence to running game for Broncos - The Denver Post
Virgil Green remains valuable weapon for Broncos in running game

Denver Broncos trying to avoid more trouble in their 8-3 season - The Denver Post
Broncos look to take a new road at Arrowhead.

Seahawks look like one of NFL's best in win over Niners - NFL.com
The Seattle Seahawks seem to be hitting their stride. The defending Super Bowl champs looked like one of the top squads in the NFL on Thursday night as the smothered the San Francisco 49ers.

Calvin Johnson explodes as Lions fight off Bears - NFL.com
Quiet down the "Calvin Johnson is declining" talk. Megatron torched the Chicago Bears with a Thanksgiving special, leading the Detroit Lions with 11 catches, 146 yards and two scores in a 34-17 win.

Dallas Cowboys' season hits precarious turning point - NFL.com
After getting shut down by the Philadelphia Eagles by 23 points on Thanksgiving, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys now find themselves and their season at a crossroads.