CHARLOTTE -- The Broncos may live in the league's worst neighborhood, but they've been known to cross the tracks from time to time.
As bad as the AFC West remains (the non-Broncos are a combined 10-29), Denver is still undefeated against the NFC South, having beaten visiting Tampa Bay and New Orleans and given Atlanta its only home loss of the season.
"We're a strong division and they've beat everyone in our division," linebacker Na'il Diggs said. "You can't judge a team by their division. They're leading their division, we're leading our division, but they've been on the road in places where we've lost. They beat Atlanta in Atlanta. We know how tough it is to win there, they got it done and we didn't."
The Broncos have also won three straight road games, including trips to Cleveland and the then-hot N.Y. Jets. So while things aren't the best they could be, they're a little defensive about their own accomplishments.
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"It was funny because earlier today I read something saying that we're in the worst division in football right now, the AFC West," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. "And it said something like, with a win this week, even the Denver Broncos will clinch a playoff game. It's funny because it was one of the writers from the NFC South. Our record against the NFC South right now is 3-0.
"It's definitely a division that's at the top of the league, but even to beat one of those teams you have to play together and tough, as well as being physical. We're excited about the challenge and we're looking forward to it."
Marshall referred to the Broncos' 8-5 mark as "an OK record," and pointed to their 15 turnovers in four of the losses. He also admitted there was an excitement over being able to clinch the division this weekend. Denver would secure a playoff berth with either a win or a tie against the Panthers or a San Diego loss or tie at Kansas City.
"We just have to take care of us," Marshall said. "If we do, then we'll be fine. It's going to take everybody, from the coaches on down to the players and even the equipment managers to beat the Panthers. But it's exciting for us."
• CHANGES UP FRONT: Part of the reason the Broncos are decided underdogs this week is because of their 26th-ranked rush defense (139.5 yards per game allowed) is going against a team that ran for 299 yards against a good defense last week.
However, there's a marked difference between early and late this year. They were giving up 154.6 yards per game on the ground through seven weeks, when they abandoned their flirtation with a 3-4 defense. They're not knocking it out now (122.0 per game the last six in a 4-3 set), but it's at least better.
"They switched from 3-4 defense to 4-3 defense and since they did they haven't been giving up many yards," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "I think that contributed to them giving up a lot of yards early on because they were a young team and getting to know each other's tendencies.
"Now they are playing great ball on defense. Their record doesn't indicate how well they are playing on defense."
Not only did they change scheme, they went back into pads to emphasize the need to play more physically, the opposite of what's happening in Charlotte.
"To be honest with you, we went back to some of the basics," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "We started practicing with pads a bit more than we had before. We just tried to clean some things up that we were doing poorly. We've gotten a little bit better."
• EXTRA POINTS: Panthers defensive end Tyler Brayton was fined $5,000 for his late hit on Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Bryant last week. Brayton was penalized on the play, after he shoved Bryant away from the action in the third quarter. ...
The Panthers picked up a pair of those voted-by-fans sponsored awards this week. Williams was named the FedEx ground player of the week, while coach John Fox was the Motorola coach of the week. ...
No real news on the Panthers injury report. The only two players listed, linebacker Adam Seward (ankle) and defensive end Hilee Taylor (calf) were both listed as doubtful for Sunday's game.