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Scouting report Bills reduced to spoilers, starting with Broncos

The Buffalo Bills (4-9) aren't going to the playoffs, but they will have an impact on the postseason.

The Denver Broncos (10-3) invade Ralph Wilson Stadium tonight. They share the second best record in the AFC with the Cincinnati Bengals, who host the Bills next Saturday.

Other than being a spoiler, the Bills have nothing more than pride to play for. But they have plenty of incentive to be competitive because every aspect of the organization is under increased scrutiny following last week's embarrassing 35-7 loss to the New England Patriots.

The Broncos are coming off an uninspiring 12-10 victory over the lowly Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, but they know another lackluster effort tonight could cost them the No. 2 AFC playoff seed and the coveted first-round bye.

>Breaking down the Bills

Rushing: RB Willis McGahee hasn't been much of a factor in recent weeks. Lack of a running game is due in part to offensive line not getting much of a surge. Bills have to establish McGahee tonight to control clock and give offense balance. . . . Bills might find it tough to run on Broncos, who allow just 85.4 yards per game (second in NFL). Trevor Pryce and Gerard Warren anchor stout defensive line. MLB Al Wilson is a stud inside, while OLBs Ian Gold and D.J. Williams bring speed and athleticism. . . . Bills should mix it up, using two-tight end sets and FB Daimon Shelton to try to outman Broncos at point of attack or running out of three-wide receiver formations to force Broncos to take one of their talented linebackers off field.

Passing: QB Kelly Holcomb, who replaces injured J.P. Losman, is more experienced at locating his targets and delivering throws with accuracy. . . . Holcomb is less mobile than Losman, but that may not matter because Broncos have just 20 sacks (tied for 30th in NFL). . . . Bills welcome WR Eric Moulds back and his presence should open opportunities for Lee Evans, whose six catches of 40 yards or more are tied for NFL lead. . . . Broncos are just 29th in NFL versus pass despite having 32 takeaways and a good secondary led by All-Pro CB Champ Bailey (eight interceptions, including one in five straight games) and FS John Lynch. Look for Holcomb to avoid Bailey and test rookie CB Dominique Foxworth, who replaces injured rookie starter Darrent Williams.

Special teams: P Brian Moorman, who leads NFL in net average (39.1 yards), could give Bills big advantage in field position. . . . KR Terrence McGee is still looking for his first touchdown. It might come against Broncos, who are next to last in NFL in coverage.

>Breaking down the Broncos

Rushing: RBs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell (combined 1,620 yards and 14 TDs) power NFL's second-ranked rushing attack. Anderson runs hard between tackles, while Bell (eight runs over 20 yards) has explosive speed to get through creases or bounce plays outside. . . . Look for big RB Ron Dayne to get some touches as well. . . . Broncos run behind a great zone blocking scheme and an offensive line that takes good angles and does a nice job walling off defenders. . . . Bills' defensive linemen must stay on their feet, get penetration and control their assigned gaps. LBs London Fletcher, Jeff Posey and Angelo Crowell must get to ball before Broncos' runners get to second level. . . . Look for Bills to use run blitzes and cheat SS Lawyer Milloy up near line of scrimmage to disrupt Broncos' blocking scheme.

Passing: QB Jake Plummer has not been as sharp as he was earlier in season, but he is still capable of being a playmaker. Plummer is a dangerous passer when outside pocket and Broncos will use stretch runs to set up bootlegs that give Plummer opportunity to run or pass. . . . Plummer has good targets in WRs Rod Smith (866 yards, 5 TDs), Ashley Lelie (18.2 yards per catch) and TE Jeb Putzier. Broncos may attack early with vertical passing game if Bills overload box to stop run. . . . FB Kyle Johnson (five TD catches) is a threat in red zone, where Bills have struggled to stop people all year. . . . Despite talent in secondary, Bills give up too many big plays. Plummer is one of least sacked quarterbacks in league, so Bills CBs Nate Clements, Terrence McGee and rest of secondary must cover long enough for Aaron Schobel-led pass rush to have an impact.

Special teams: Williams' absence hurts Broncos' return game. Charlie Adams is capable on kickoffs and punt returns, but doesn't have Williams' big-play ability. . . . K Jason Elam is one of best ever at position. . . . P Todd Sauerbrun has a 44.0-yard career average.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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>Prediction

Bills don't want a repeat of poor showing last week. Look for them to make game close for a while, but Broncos have too many horses and too much to play for. Broncos 27, Bills 17.

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