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Broncos hoping week off doesn't stop momentum

Broncos hoping week off doesn't stop momentum

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) More than 15 years later, the words ``Jacksonville Jaguars'' still hit like a cold splash of water around Denver, especially during playoff time.

And if you want to bring back bad memories for Peyton Manning or any of his former Colts teammates, ask them about what happened against Pittsburgh in the 2005 playoffs.

In both instances, the Broncos and Manning roared into the AFC playoffs with top seeding, a week of rest after a bye and the so-called honor of being the odds-on favorite to make the Super Bowl.

In both instances, the Broncos and Manning were unceremoniously dumped, at home, by a team that came into the game as a touchdown-plus underdog.

Which brings up a good question this week in Denver: Does the team that comes into the divisional round fresh off the bye week (See, Denver) have an edge over the team that comes in off the high of a victory the week before (See, Baltimore)?

Dating to Denver's upset loss in the 1996 playoffs, the top-seeded AFC team has made the Super Bowl only six of 16 times.

``If you look back, at least in recent history, sometimes it can be an advantage,'' said Broncos coach John Fox, who lost after a bye week when he was with Carolina in 2008. ``But it comes down to, forget about rest, forget about seeds, forget about who you play, when, where. It's going to be who plays best Saturday afternoon.''

On Saturday, Jan. 4, 1997, the Broncos did not play best.

Led by Mark Brunell, Natrone Means and Jimmy Smith, the Jaguars rolled into the playoffs having won six of seven, then traveled to Buffalo for a confidence-building 30-27 win over the Bills.

Jacksonville's impressive performance barely raised an eyebrow in Denver, where talk of John Elway finally getting his Super Bowl ring was in full force. The biggest news of the week came when Woody Paige, a columnist for the Denver Post, famously called Jacksonville the ``Jagwads'' - a slam that quickly turned into a rallying cry inside the Jaguars locker room.

Every bit as important was the way the two teams were playing coming into that game.

Jacksonville had a high-powered offense that was coming into its own.

Denver had wrapped up the AFC West and top seeding throughout the playoffs on Dec. 1 and spent the last three weeks of the regular season deciding whether to rest the starters, play them or find some workable mix.

In their first meaningful game in a month, the Broncos shot out to a quick 12-0 lead. The rest, as any longtime Denver fan will recall it, was a nightmare. Brunell threw for 245 yards and the Jaguars went up 23-12. Elway tried to engineer another of his trademark comebacks but came up short. Jacksonville won 30-27.

``Everything was just so ideal,'' Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said after the loss. ``And to have it slip away - this sets the organization back four years, at least. It's going to be the year 2000 before we can ever recover from this.''

It didn't take that long for the Broncos to rebound; they won the next two Super Bowls. Manning rebounded from his 2005 playoff loss to win the Super Bowl the next season.

But at the time they happened, both losses were as devastating as they were unexpected.

Going into the game against the Steelers on Jan. 15, 2006, Manning was already brandishing a reputation as one of the greats of the game, albeit with a playoff resume still very much in question. Tom Brady had ousted him twice and he had a 3-5 record in the postseason.

The Colts started that season 13-0 and played the last three weeks under similar circumstances as the `96 Broncos - trying to find the formula that would help them stay sharp while not putting their stars at risk.

Manning played one quarter of the 15th game and one series of the last game, which ended when he was sacked and lost a fumble after being hit by Arizona's Chike Okeafor.

Manning returned two weeks later and got sacked five times in a 21-18 loss to the Steelers. That result left the 2005 Broncos with home-field advantage for the AFC title game - the last time Denver has been that far in the playoffs - but the Steelers beat them, as well.

``That brings back bad memories,'' said Brandon Stokley, the Broncos receiver who played with Manning in Indianapolis in 2005. ``We just didn't play a good game. We had the bye. We kind of shut it down toward the end of the season and came out flat and that's what happens.''

Part by plan and part because they had no other choice, the 2012-13 Broncos have not shut down a thing all season.

Because they were busy holding off Baltimore, leapfrogging New England, then pursuing Houston for the top seed in the AFC, the Broncos had to play all their players through the final game of the year before sealing the top spot.

Once they got it, Fox designed the bye-week schedule to keep his team very much engaged. He called for three practices during the week and a mandatory weightlifting session on Saturday, designed as much for the work in the weight room as for what it prevented - namely, players using their days off to hop a flight to Las Vegas or some other focus-detracting locale.

On Saturday, they find out if it was worth it. The Broncos head into the week as a nine-point favorite.

``I like the way we approached it,'' Stokley said. ``We played every game. We played every play. The bye week, we worked hard. I like this mindset. I feel a lot better about it than I did in Indy.''

Notes: Broncos CB Champ Bailey and OL Ryan Clady were named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals team Monday. ... Denver's only other playoff meeting with the Ravens was a 21-3 loss in Baltimore in the wild-card round. The Ravens won the Super Bowl that year. ... Fox on whether the team had confidence in PR/KR Trindon Holliday, who has been prone to fumbling this season and is recovering from an ankle injury: ``He's on our 53-man roster and he's been our starting punt returner and kick returner for some time. So I guess the answer to that would be yes.''

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CB Jimmy Smith expected to play, listed as questionable for Sunday

CB Jimmy Smith expected to play, listed as questionable for Sunday

OWINGS MILLS — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, but it appears Smith will play after missing the past two games with a back problem. Smith practiced all week, and head coach John Harbaugh sounded optimistic following Friday’s practice.

“He looks good,” Harbaugh said. “We weren’t sure early in the week if he was going to be able to go, and he just responded well and he looks good. It will mean a lot. It will help our defense. We’ll be really, pretty much, full strength out there.”

Three Ravens were declared out for Sunday’s game — tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh), left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh).

Meanwhile, backup running back Buck Allen was doubtful due to a non-football issue.

“Buck had a personal issue come up,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the most I want to say about it right now. It’s just something that’s a personal issue right now that he’s dealing with. He may not be able to play in the game. We’re just going to have to see about that, where he’s at with it.”

MORE RAVENS: How Baltimore could still win AFC North

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Fantasy Football 2016: Best DFS plays for Week 13

Fantasy Football 2016: Best DFS plays for Week 13

Happy Friday. I'm participating weekly in FanDuel's Daily Fantasy Accuracy Cup (DFAC) along with other fantasy football thinkers. Here are four plays I like and plan on using for Week 13 along with some other options..

Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback, 49ers at Bears, $7,800 — Don't look now, but Kaepernick has suddenly morphed into DFS stud. Weird, I know, though the rush yards always boosted his appeal. Over the last four weeks on FanDuel, 23, 24, 19 and 34 points. Two of those performances were on the road, which is why the 49ers head this week. The Bears may not lay out a literal welcome mat, but the defense has allowed two touchdown passes in three straight games. Another mobile QB, Marcus Mariota, rushed for 46 yards against Chicago in Week 12. There's certainly downside risk taking any piece of the 49ers offense especially away from home, but there's a boom hope with Kaepernick at a reasonable cost.

Other quarterbacks: Philip Rivers ($8,200), Alex Smith ($7,000)

Jordan Howard, Running back, Bears vs. 49ers, $7,800 — Sticking with a game nobody outside of the Windy City and Bay Area wants to watch. On the season, San Francisco ranks last against fantasy running backs which is why the all-purpose Howard is interesting, even at a fairly high price (5th among RB) and despite no touchdowns over the last three weeks. Let's also note that the 49ers have been improved in two of the last three weeks, holding Arizona and Miami under 65 yards rushing. That said, Howard has at least 99 yards from scrimmage in each of the last four games. Great chance for big production as Chicago leans on him without Jay Cutler out.

Other running backs: David Johnson ($9,200), Devonta Freeman ($7,500), LeGarrette Blount ($6,600)

Larry Fitzgerald , Wide receiver, Cardinals vs. Redskins, $7,000 — Anybody who's watched Washington's defense of late knows slot receivers are something of a problem. Stefon Diggs, Randall Cobb and Cole Beasley have all thrived. Next up, Arizona's future Hall of Famer. While it's always possible the Redskins move Josh Norman inside, they simply haven't deployed the cornerback in that manner.

Other wide receivers: Julio Jones ($8,300), Brandin Cooks ($6,800), Tyreek Hill ($5,800)

Travis Kelce, Tight end, Chiefs vs. Falcons, $6,300 — Get a piece of what should be a high-scoring game in Week 13? Check. Pick a player who faces a bottom-5 defense against tight ends this season? Check. Snag one of the top remaining talents now that Rob Gronkowsk and Jordan Reed are hurt? Check. Kansas City likely will need to ramp up the pass attempts as Atlanta's offense can score. 

Other tight ends: Coby Fleener ($5,500), Vance McDonald ($4,900)

MORE FANTASY: Crucial fantasy football advice for your playoff push