ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -Will the real Denver Broncos please stand up?
The Broncos (7-5) are the NFL's biggest brainteaser, having made a habit of beating better teams, especially on the road, and losing to lesser ones, particularly at home.
Some days they're brilliant, effective and efficient. Other days, they're bumbling, fumbling, crumbling.
They've won three straight road games, including last week's 34-17 walloping of the resurgent New York Jets, which came on the heels of their third straight loss at home, a 31-10 defeat to lowly Oakland.
``This team is funny,'' quarterback Jay Cutler said as the Broncos prepared to face Kansas City, a 2-10 team that beat Denver by two touchdowns in Week 4. ``I think we've learned our lesson of taking teams lightly. I don't think that'll happen this week. But if we turn the ball over and give them some momentum, anything can happen.''
At one point, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas got it wrong six straight weeks with the befuddling Broncos.
Would it help if everybody picked against them this week?
``Absolutely, please do,'' Cutler replied. ``I don't think it would hurt at this point. List us as underdogs. That would be great.''
No chance: The Broncos are listed as better than a touchdown favorite.
Given their track record, though, would it really be a bad bet to go with the Chiefs?
Maybe it's youth - a dozen rookies have seen significant action for the Broncos so far.
Maybe it's injuries - they've already placed 13 players on IR, including four tailbacks. A fifth, Selvin Young, has one carry in two months. Injuries have also sidelined defensive stalwarts Champ Bailey (groin), Nate Webster (knee) and D.J. Williams (knee) for more than a month.
Webster expects to return Sunday, Bailey and Williams are still question marks.
The Broncos' roller coaster of a season started in September, when the Chiefs ended a 12-game losing streak by thumping previously unbeaten Denver 33-19.
``We remember that,'' Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. ``And they remember that.''
Do they ever.
``They just came out and ran the ball down our throats,'' Broncos safety Marquand Manuel said. ``It was as rude awakening for all of us around here.''
their rematch at Invesco Field.
``Yeah, there's a lesson to be learned from the first Kansas City game and the Oakland game and you know what, guys, don't play to the level of what the other team's record is,'' defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban admonished. ``And I think as a young team we have a tendency to do that. When we're playing teams that we're supposed to lose to, we kind of step it up. But when we play teams that recordwise aren't so good, we kind of feel relaxed.''
Still, the Broncos have found a way to put the playoffs in their sights by improving their run defense, and for that, they credit coach Mike Shanahan's decision a month ago to put the pads back on at practices.
``Obviously, the downside of that is getting more people hurt. I thought we'd lost so many people at that time, it really didn't matter,'' Shanahan said. ``We had to get better, going back to our basics. And I think that just helped us and it's carried over to game day..''
Ekuban said there was plenty of grumbling in the locker room, but there's no arguing with the results: three wins in four games after three losses in four weeks.
``I think the pads practices have made a huge difference,'' defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. ``You know when you don't have pads on, you tag a guy or you reach out and say, 'I would have had him.' Well, no. You wouldn't have had him until we see you do it here, wrap him up.''
In their first matchup, Larry Johnson ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns against Denver's experimental 3-4 defense that the Broncos since ditched.
``They're a lot better,'' Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. ``They've really made it difficult to run the ball.''
The Chiefs have made their own drastic changes since September. After injuries to quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard, Kansas City employs the shotgun formation and a spread offense for Tyler Thigpen.
``We're probably a lot different than we were the first meeting,'' Edwards said.
Not really, Slowik suggested.
``We saw enough of them in that first game handing the ball off to 27 (Johnson). So, I'm sure that isn't going to change,'' Slowik said. ``The quarterback is different and their formation is different, but the plan ... is not drastically different.''
And that blueprint is to get the ball in the hands of Johnson, Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe.
``They're just finding different ways to get those guys the ball,'' linebacker Jamie Winborn said.
And the Broncos are searching for ways to put some cohesion into their topsy-turvy season.
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