Whether the Broncos get there as wild-card participants or division champions with a possible first-round bye depends on the team's ability to outlast the 9-2 Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.
This is precisely why the Broncos may move quickly to get running back Knowshon Moreno back onto the playing field, despite Mike Klis of The Denver Post reporting that his status is questionable with a bone bruise in his right leg.
Moreno has been a revelation for the Broncos this year and is easily putting together the best season of his pro career.
He has already produced 1,166 combined rushing and receiving yards as well as 10 total touchdowns in 11 starts. His average of 4.4 yards per carry is the second-best of his career, behind the 4.8 he averaged on 37 attempts in 2011.
Against the Patriots on Sunday, he rushed for 224 yards and a score.
To say that Moreno will be an asset now that the weather has begun to turn sour is an understatement. However, this does not mean that the Broncos should rush Moreno back onto the field at the risk of further injury.
According to Klis, Moreno's bone bruise is of the painful ankle variety, though the running back could practice in preparation for this week's showdown with the Chiefs.
While the Kansas City game is unquestionably an important one for the Broncos, Moreno needs to be rested if he is not 100 percent.
Denver has a pair of capable backups in Ronnie Hillman (4.6 yards per carry this season) and Montee Ball (3.5), along with C.J. Anderson, who carried the ball three times for 16 yards on Sunday.
The Broncos also have a quarterback named Peyton Manning, who has been known to shoulder the offensive load a time or two in his career.
Denver has the firepower to win without Moreno for a week or two while the veteran rests and the younger backs gain a little bit of experience.
Hillman (second year), Ball and Anderson (both rookies) have just 36 appearances between them, with zero starts. Getting the young trio a bit of playing time in preparation for the postseason is far from a bad idea.
A loss to Kansas City doesn't even mean the Broncos will necessarily miss out on a first-round bye.
|Broncos Running Backs in 2013|
|through Week 12|
After Kansas City, the Broncos finish the season with four very winnable games against the Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders. Barring a massive upset, Denver should finish the season no worse than 13-3.
It is much more important that Denver has Moreno available for its postseason run—especially if the road to the Super Bowl runs through Denver.
The weather at Mile High has been known to be on the undesirable side in December and January. A fully healthy Moreno gives Denver a better chance to win in such conditions than a player still nursing a nagging leg injury.