The Denver Broncos' dominating defense has plenty of bite, even if Danny Trevathan is missing two teeth.
The inside linebacker swallowed one after making a tackle at San Diego a month ago, and spit out another.
"As long as we win," Trevathan said Friday, "I can always replace teeth. You can't replace a championship."
The Broncos (11-4) hope to ride one of the best defenses in NFL history to a title.
Challenged by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to finish in the top five in all the significant defensive categories this season, the Broncos have certainly responded. They could become the first team since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in total defense, scoring defense, sacks, and pass defense.
Right now, they're leading three of the four, with scoring defense (18.4 points per game) the only exception. But another suffocating performance against San Diego (4-11) on Sunday could vault them to the top of a list led by Cincinnati (17.4).
Denver beat the Chargers 17-3 on Dec. 6 when Trevathan suffered a concussion on the play he lost two teeth on the upper right side.
"We're arrogant, to be honest with you. We want to be the best," said DeMarcus Ware, whose team is trying to lock up the AFC West title and a first-round bye. "We want to have it all. ... At the end of the day, that's where greatness is bred."
Led by Von Miller, the Broncos' bustling defense is limiting opposing offenses to an NFL-low 280.9 yards a game — 199.1 via the pass (No. 1 in the league) and 81.8 on the ground (No. 2). Not since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles has a team led the league in total defense, pass defense and run defense.
The Broncos have a chance, too, should they contain the Chargers' ground game and the Bills run wild against the New York Jets' top-ranked run defense.
"It could be an amazing season for us," Phillips said. "It is anyway. But if we finish it up strong like we can, we could have accomplished a lot of statistical goals that no other team here or a lot of places have ever finished. It's a pretty neat deal."
The secret behind this defense is simple: carrying grudges. Like Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who went undrafted. Or Derek Wolfe, who gets overlooked. Or Brandon Marshall, who didn't make the Pro Bowl despite being the leading tackler on the league's best defense.
"Each individual has their own chip. That's what really makes us go," Harris said. "We all have a little chip on our shoulder."
Or a couple of missing teeth.
Trevathan was in such a hurry he forgot to buckle his chin strap and stick in his mouth guard when he got hurt. He brought down a ball carrier and then was plowed into by an offensive lineman, driving Trevathan's face into the turf.
"I started spitting out blood," Trevathan recounted. "I was going to play the next play, but they told me I lost too much blood."
He exited with a concussion, and missed the following week, too, a 15-12 loss against Oakland in which the defense allowed just 126 total yards. This could be the first time Denver finishes No. 1 in total defense in franchise history.
"People are still doubting us," Trevathan said. "We believe we're No. 1. It only adds fuel to the fire. It's our job to go out there and keep putting (dominating performances) on film, get this win so we can be put in a category where we could be one of the best defenses to have ever played the game."
NOTES: The Broncos had 100 percent participation at practice Friday for just the third time this season and the first time since Sept. 24. ... S T.J. Ward (ankle) and Marshall (ankle) are questionable for Sunday. ... Marshall was awarded the Darrent Williams Good Guy Award, presented annually by the Denver chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. Williams was slain Jan. 1, 2007. ... Coach Gary Kubiak said Peyton Manning, who will back up Brock Osweiler against the Chargers, had a good week of practice. "He took not only some reps for us offensively, but took most of the scout team for us," Kubiak said.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.