The Denver Broncos' playoff spot has been a certainty for quite some time now. Though with the last Sunday of the season nearly upon us, the Broncos still have a couple things to play for.
Denver can lock up both a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a win and a Houston Texans loss. Seeing Houston drop a game to the Indianapolis Colts wouldn't be shocking, considering the Texans' poor performance as of late.
Even if they can't unseat the Texans, they can clinch the second seed and a first-round bye with either a win or a New England Patriots loss.
In short, the Broncos have a tremendous opportunity on Sunday against a team who is probably going to be picking first in next year's draft. If the Broncos can beat the Kansas City Chiefs, they'll continue to build on tremendous momentum that has propelled them to the top of most NFL power rankings.
The question now becomes, how much will we see, if any, of Brock Osweiler and other Broncos backups?
While Denver's offensive attack has been well-balanced, and supplemented by tremendous defense, it's no secret that this team counts on the health of Peyton Manning. With his history of neck injuries, an argument could certainly be made that Manning should and will be rested during Sunday's game against the Chiefs.
However, it bears repeating: Sunday's divisional matchup is not meaningless for the Broncos. There's plenty on the line, and giving the reigns to Osweiler right out of the gate isn't a likely scenario.
Looking at the situation that Denver is in, and considering the momentum it has established up to this point, don't expect John Fox to be too hasty in resting Manning.
He'll give Manning a chance to win the game, and if we get to the point where Denver is leading by three or four scores, then we can start looking for Osweiler.
Against a team like the Chiefs, that could happen quickly enough to get Manning off the field at halftime, especially considering how suffocating Denver's defense has been.
Look for another big play from the Broncos' secondary leading to either a defensive touchdown or a short-yardage score for Manning.
If they turn another one of these out at the right time, we could see a wide lead for Denver and a chance for Osweiler to get some significant playing time.
Would Osweiler Get to Throw?
Even with a three or four score lead, mistake-ridden football in the third quarter can certainly cause even the safest of margins to evaporate.
If Denver is comfortable enough with its lead to put Osweiler in, I would expect a lot of hand-offs, and perhaps some quick dumps to Jacob Tamme or a screen pass to Demaryius Thomas. It won't be anything too complicated.
The conundrum the Broncos find themselves in is nothing new. Teams at the top of the standings always have to juggle the possibility of losing players to injury versus playing hard and going for more than just a playoff berth.
Denver will lean towards going for more. With the slowdown in Houston and such a weak opponent in Kansas City, the Broncos have no choice but to at least give their best players a chance to give themselves home-field advantage.
One more thing to consider is the fact that Houston plays its game at 1 p.m. EST, and the Broncos won't kickoff until 4:25 p.m. EST.
The result of the Texans' game will certainly have an impact on who Denver has behind center for most of the game.
If Houston loses to Indianapolis, expect Manning to get plenty of playing time.