DENVER (Dec. 26, 2005) -- Some Denver Broncos will get more than a week off to prepare for the playoffs.
The Broncos have secured a first-round bye and have nothing to play for at San Diego, where the Chargers are out of the playoff race. So, coach Mike Shanahan can rest several of his starters, including quarterback Jake Plummer, running back Mike Anderson and banged-up cornerback Champ Bailey.
"Everyone will have different opinions on what to do," Shanahan said. "Some people will say you should play the starters the whole game, then when somebody gets hurt, they change their minds and say you guys are dummies. ... We'll go with our gut feeling."
After San Diego, the Broncos (12-3) won't play again until mid-January, when they'll host their first home playoff game since John Elway led them to consecutive Super Bowls in 1997-98. They haven't won a playoff game since then either -- going 0-3, including lopsided losses at Indianapolis the last two seasons.
They're trying hard not to think that far ahead. Or think about the recent past.
"The season's not over," receiver Rod Smith said. "We've got to finish the season off right."
Defensive lineman Ebenezer Ekuban expects to see personnel used as normal in the regular season finale.
"I do, especially for a half," he said. "We still need to go out there and stay focused and keep doing what we've been doing. If we take off two weeks, then to have to play in the playoff game is going to be hard."
Defensive end Trevor Pryce said: "You don't want to lump into the playoffs and be rusty. You want everything to be clicking." So, he's prepared to play four quarters even though it's as meaningless in the standings as a preseason game.
"In '98 we were in the same situation," Pryce said. "We had already gotten the bye, we were the No. 1 seed and all the starters played the whole last game. So, I'm sure that's going to happen again."
Bailey has been banged up all season and could use some rest. So could Plummer. Anderson sprained his left ankle in Denver's 22-3 win over Oakland, so Tatum Bell, who is 131 yards shy of 1,000 himself, expects to start in his place. And linebacker Al Wilson has a broken right thumb and isn't expected to play.
Backup quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt expects to finally get to throw his first NFL pass.
"I am sure they are going to give a lot of key guys rest to avoid injuries," he said. "Then again, we do have a bye week, so I don't think you can give the starters too much time. I am going to prepare like I do every week and maybe this week I will actually play."
Regardless, the Broncos aren't looking for a vacation.
"It means nothing unless we get deep into the playoffs and hopefully go all the way," Plummer said. "We've had good years and lost in the first round in the past two years. We have a first round bye this year so that isn't going to happen. We know we have a game at home. We hope to get a win at home. We're not done working yet."
Safety John Lynch, however, knows the value of earning one of the top two seeds in the conference, as he did with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won the Super Bowl three years ago.
"I remember the year we did it, we got the bye, played at home and then beat San Francisco and they told me we're going to the NFC championship. I knew that going in but I was like, 'That's all you have to do?' " Lynch recalled.
Still, he insisted he's not allowing himself to think about just how close he is to another shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
"We want to beat San Diego," Lynch said. "I think that's what's on our mind right now."