It's the first of two meetings between division rivals as the Chargers host the Broncos on Sunday. These two teams will switch venues on Dec. 30 for a Week 17 affair that could help decide the Chargers' playoff standing. Last year these two split their two meetings with the Chargers winning 21-0 at home and Denver taking its home contest 24-21. The common thread in both games was that the Broncos had a problem with turnovers. They had five total while the Chargers had just one. These two have actually split their last 26 meetings in L.A./San Diego.
Denver began the year 2-0 with wins over Seattle and Oakland ;but has won just one contest since then, and that was against the lowly Arizona Cardinals. The offense has underperformed terribly with Case Keenum throwing for just 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. The former Vikings signal-caller has been sacked 24 times this season. Demaryius Thomas was sent to Houston at the trade deadline, so Emmanuel Sanders is now joined by Courtland Sutton out of SMU. Thomas accounted for three of those touchdowns with Sanders and Sutton accounting for five others. The defense has been pretty good although it's been on the field a lot more because of the offensive struggles.
The Chargers are 7-2 and have won six straight since their typical slow start. Over that span only one team has managed more than 20 points against them with the 49ers putting up 27. The team's run game is rolling behind Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. It's taking some pressure off Philip Rivers who doesn't have to do as much in his older age. Imagine how much better the defense would be with Joey Bosa and Jason Verrett — both have been out due to injury. Safety Derwin James is making his case for defensive rookie of the year as he's got 3.5 sacks and an interception to go with 64 tackles.
Denver at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 18 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Chargers -7
Three Things to Watch
The Broncos are coming off a bye week, and at times teams play a little bit better after the week off and with more focus. Denver should be a bit healthier as well. Brandon Marshall, Bradley Roby, Darian Stewart and Royce Freeman were all dealing with various ailments and should be available now. The team is in the midst of five road games over a seven-week span, but once again the time off should help keep them fresh. The Chargers are playing their first real home game since Oct. 7. Since then, they've been to Cleveland, London, Seattle and Oakland with a bye week in there as well. Los Angeles doesn't have the look-ahead factor either with a simple game against Arizona coming up next at home.
The Chargers rely heavily on Gordon and Ekeler for their ground game success. Gordon is averaging 84 yards per contest with change-of-pace back Ekeler adding 38.3 yards. The two are factors as well in the passing game as they have combined for 56 receptions on 78 targets. Gordon is fully healthy which hasn't always been the case in his career, and the difference it makes in the offense is obvious. Denver's defense is allowing more than 130 rushing yards per contest. The Broncos have tightened up as of late allowing under 100 yards in three straight, but before then they gave up almost 600 yards on the ground to the Jets and Rams.
As mentioned above, Freeman figures to suit up after missing the past few games due to injury. He and Phillip Lindsay form a solid duo with Devontae Booker getting some work as well. Lindsay is averaging 5.4 yards per carry with the former Oregon Duck Freeman chipping in with 4.4. They have seven touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. Lindsay has been used a bit more in the passing game with 20 catches while Freeman has just four. The Chargers run defense has been a bit leaky as of late with four straight teams putting up more than 100 rushing yards. The team that can establish the run should be on their way to a victory.
3. Close but no cigar
For as bad as the Broncos record is, they've had plenty of chances to make it a lot better. Denver's losses as of late were by two to Houston, by three to the Rams and by four to the Chiefs with all of those coming at home. They've also sprinkled in some blowout losses on the road as they fell by 18 at the Jets and by 13 at the Ravens. This is a talented team that just doesn't make the plays it needs to in crunch time. That's been a problem in the past for the Chargers, but not this year. During this win streak, L.A. has wins by two, one and eight points. Very few times have we seen the typical Rivers drive with little time and a small deficit because the team is that much better.
I've picked the Broncos several times already doing these previews and they've failed me miserably while doing it. I don't like to pick against teams coming off a bye week, but I think the Chargers are so happy to be home finally after being away for around a month. This one will probably be a close affair, but Los Angeles is firing on all cylinders and needs to win to keep up with the likes of the Chiefs and Patriots atop the AFC. I think the home team gets the win.
Prediction: Chargers 24, Broncos 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.