CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Six weeks. Three teams. One division winner. The AFC West Invitational starts tonight with Oakland facing Houston in Mexico City. The Raiders hold a half game lead over the Broncos and Chiefs, who share identical 7-3 records and square off Sunday night in Denver.
The Broncos, in a moment of truth in August, would have accepted this fate. They are not in pole position, but they are in position to achieve all of their goals. Health figures to play a critical role, and Monday morning brought optimism that Denver's surging defense will be full throttle.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe predicted to Denver7 he would be back for the Chiefs game after suffering a hairline fracture in his right elbow. He took a step closer to his goal Monday, doing light work during the open media viewing period. Wolfe wore a brace on his right elbow, and pushed off in some drills, an encouraging sign for the Broncos' best run stuffer and most reliable force at his position.
Cornerback Aqib Talib also practiced. He missed the previous three games with a lower back injury. The month off should give Talib a chance to finish the season strong, not unlike DeMarcus Ware last season under similar circumstances. Talib ranks as one of the top players at his position this season, enjoying an all-pro caliber year.
"They both practiced. They are both doing good. Great to have those guys back as expected," Kubiak said.
The only player missing was star receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders was excused as he and his wife were expecting the birth of their second child, according to Kubiak.
Center Matt Paradis, who is dealing with a chronic hip issue, watched practice. There was hope the bye would allow him to return to workouts, but he might be limited during the week for the remainder of the season to remain available on game day. Paradis, the offensive line's best performer, has not missed a snap the past two years.
The line figures to feature a new wrinkle with former Colorado State standout Ty Sambrailo expected to start at right tackle in favor of Donald Stephenson. The expectation is Stephenson will still receive some snaps. The Broncos rotated players at guard and tackle last season to strengthen the group down the stretch last season.
"We told them the player that plays the best will play the most," Kubiak said of the right tackle position.
- Fullback Andy Janovich no longer is sporting the club on his right hand. He will likely need a protective brace, but losing the club should help improve his blocking in the run game.
- The Broncos and Chiefs represent only the third game this week between teams with winning records.