Broncos at Chargers -- Week 6
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego (outdoors, grass)
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: Chargers by 3
Records: Chargers (Overall: 3-2, AFC West: 2-0); Broncos (Overall: 2-3, AFC West: 1-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Oct. 9, 2011, Chargers 29, Broncos 24; Nov. 27, 2011: Broncos 16, Chargers 13. The Chargers have won four of the past five meetings. Denver leads the all-time series 55-48-1.
What matters: This is a battle for first place in the AFC West. If the Chargers win, they will have a two-game lead. San Diego will also own the first four playoff tiebreakers. Both teams finished last season 8-8, and the Broncos won the division because of tiebreakers. If the Broncos win, both teams will be 3-3, but Denver will be in first place because it will own the first tiebreaker, which is record in head-to-head games. It would also put tremendous pressure on San Diego to win in Week 11 in Denver, where it has historically played poorly.
Who matters: RB Ryan Mathews is expected to see more playing time and may get the start. Mathews hasn't started the past two weeks after he had a goal-line fumble against the Falcons in Week 3. Mathews still led the team in rushing the past two weeks with a combined 26 carries for 141 yards (5.4 yards per carry average). The Broncos defense is 28th against the run and gave up 252 yards on the ground against the Patriots last week. A solid running performance by Mathews would help the Chargers control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Peyton Manning.
Key matchups: LT Michael Harris (undrafted, UCLA) started the first three games of the season, and his performance was a mixed bag. Harris hasn't played the last two games but will likely receive the start this week because LT Jared Gaither (groin) is listed as doubtful. If Harris starts, he will receive help from TE Antonio Gates in his effort to block LB Von Miller, who leads the Broncos with five sacks. Harris and Gates have described Miller, 6-3, 237, as “shifty” and difficult to block because his body style resembles a WR as opposed to a prototypical LB.
Injuries of note: K Nate Kaeding (groin) is listed as out. Gaither and CB Shareece Wright (right ankle sprain) are doubtful. K Nick Novak has made 4 of 5 field goals over the past two games in place of Kaeding. Novak’s miss was from 55 yards last week against the Saints. Wright was limited in two practices this week and probably could play, but the upcoming bye week will likely persuade coach Norv Turner to keep him out.
Inside stuff: Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano was a defensive assistant for the Colts from 1998–2001, the first four years of Manning’s career. Pagano may have some inside knowledge on Manning and his approach to the game.
Connections: WR Eddie Royal was a second-round pick of the Broncos in 2008 and was with the club until 2011. TE Dante Rosario played for the Broncos in 2011. Broncos coach John Fox served as the Chargers secondary coach from 1992-93.
Stat you should know: QB Philip Rivers has a career passer rating of 102.7 against the Broncos and is 9-3 as a starter against Denver. The Chargers are 4-1 against Peyton Manning under Turner. That includes two playoff wins.
Record watch: TE Antonio Gates (7,926 career yards) needs 55 receiving yards to pass Hall of Fame TE Ozzie Newsome (7,980) for the fourth-most receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history. OLB Shaun Phillips (64.5 career sacks) needs one sack to tie Lee Williams (65.5) for third-most sacks in franchise history and 2.5 sacks to tie Gary “Big Hands” Johnson for second most.
Looking ahead: Both teams have their bye next week. In Week 8, the Chargers will travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns (0-5).
Prediction: Chargers 30, Broncos 21