By Mark Schiff
The No. 1 seed in the AFC provides the Broncos with a lot of advantages, including home field advantage in the next two games and the opportunity to play the lowest possible seed in the divisional round. But for the banged up Broncos, the biggest advantage might be the extra rest afforded by the first-round bye.
“We would have had a hard time playing this week,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips admitted on Friday. But thanks to the bye week, Denver is likely to have its full compliment of stars ready to go for the team’s first playoff game on Jan. 17.
Chief among them is outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who suffered a knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Chargers. Although the exact nature of Ware’s injury has not been disclosed, the veteran pass rusher told reporters on Friday that he expects to play in Denver’s postseason opener despite sitting out this week’s practice sessions.
Newly-named second-team All-Pro Chris Harris also sat out Friday’s practice. The fifth-year cornerback bruised his shoulder against San Diego but should be able to play in Denver’s playoff opener.
Safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart also missed the team’s first two practices of the week. Ward has been working his way back to full strength since injuring his ankle against New England, while Stewart reaggravated a hamstring injury against San Diego. Stewart visited with a specialist in Atlanta on Tuesday but an MRI didn’t reveal a tear.
“It was good news,” Stewart told the media. “It will be better for next week. I am thankful for this time off.”
Star inside linebacker Brandon Marshall is also grateful for the time off, as he was only able to play three snaps in Sunday’s game after injuring his ankle the week before against Cincinnati. He also sat out of practice but is expected to play next Sunday. His replacement Todd Davis also missed practice, as did cornerback Aqib Talib.
Tight end Owen Daniels was a regular on the team’s injury report throughout the regular season and it seemed like he took a big hit in almost every game. But Kubiak’s strategy of giving the veterans a day off of practice appears to have worked well for Daniels, who didn’t miss any games. This is a long way of saying he had the day off of practice.
Besides reserve O-lineman Sam Brenner, the only other offensive player to miss Friday’s practice was quarterback Brock Osweiler, whose knee injury came as a surprise when it was announced earlier in the week. Osweiler suffered a sprained right knee Sunday when he was hit by Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram. Although he’ll be sitting out tomorrow’s practice session as well, head coach Gary Kubiak said that he expects Osweiler to participate in next week’s practices and be ready to backup Peyton Manning in Denver’s playoff opener.
And in a good bit of injury news, safety Omar Bolden practiced for the second time this week, an encouraging sign that he will be making his return after being sidelined in the past four games with a hamstring injury. Bolden has been missed on both defense and special teams, where he remains the team’s best option on kick and punt returns.
The Broncos are scheduled for one more practice tomorrow before resuming their normal preparations on Monday. Denver’s divisional round game against either the Chiefs, Texans or Steelers is set for Sunday, Jan. 17 at 2:40 p.m., right here on CBS4 Denver.
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.