The San Diego Chargers (3-8) were finally able to end a six-game losing skid with a 31-25 victory over Jacksonville in Week 12. It was the Chargers' first win since Week 4 and should provide some much-needed momentum. San Diego will try to get its first AFC West victory of the season, making it two wins in a row in the process. It will be a tall order though as the surging Broncos come to town.
Denver (9-2) will attempt to avoid a major let down following a monster win over the previously undefeated Patriots. Head coach Gary Kubiak will be tasked with keeping his Broncos focused on a favorable matchup against the Chargers on the road. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler will look to make it three wins in a row as the Broncos' starting quarterback.
Sunday’s matchup will be the 112th meeting between these AFC West rivals, a series that dates back to 1960. The Broncos hold the all-time edge at 61-49-1 and have won seven of their last eight games against the Chargers. A win Sunday would Denver's fourth in a row over San Diego.
Denver at San Diego
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Denver - 4
Three Things to Watch
1. C.J. Anderson and the Emergence of the Broncos' Run Game
The Broncos' rushing attack, which struggled mightily throughout the first half of the season, has suddenly come alive, averaging over 170 yards per game over the last two weeks. The ability to run more of the offense from under center with Brock Osweiler, along with improved run blocking from the offensive line, has been credited with much of the recent success. However, C.J. Anderson’s return to 2014 form may just be the biggest factor in the sudden surge in Denver’s rushing attack.
Anderson has gone from averaging 2.7 yards per carry in Denver’s first six contests to 6.32 over the last five games. He was even named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in last week’s victory over the Patriots, rushing for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning jaunt to pay dirt in overtime. The more consistent Ronnie Hillman remains the starter at running back, but Anderson’s recent emergence should earn him more carries moving forward.
The best news for the Bronco rushing attack this week is the opposition. San Diego's defense has proven to be one of the worst in the NFL against the run, having allowed 12 rushing touchdowns in 11 games, while giving up close to five yards per carry. Denver should have every opportunity to keep the momentum going on the ground this afternoon.
2. The Red-Hot Philip Rivers vs. a Greedy Bronco Defense
Philip Rivers may be in the midst of his finest season ever. In addition to completing close to 69 percent of his passes, he is averaging 319 yards per game. With five games to go, Rivers already has more 300-yard games (7) than he has had at any other point in his previous 11 seasons. Rivers’ banner season becomes even more impressive when you consider that his accomplishments have come playing behind a patchwork offensive line, with virtually no complimentary run game, and throwing to a receiving corps that has been hampered by injuries throughout the season.
While Rivers has had mixed results against the Denver in previous years, he may be in for his biggest challenge to date. The current edition of the Broncos' defense ranks tops in the NFL against the pass, giving up just 197 yards per game, with almost as many interceptions (10) to its credit as touchdown passes allowed (11). To make matters worse, the Bronco pass rush leads the NFL with 37 sacks.
3. An Anemic San Diego Rushing Attack
Melvin Gordon, the rookie phenom from Wisconsin, was brought in to give the Chargers' running game a much-needed boost. Unfortunately, the first-round pick has not been able to live up to the billing. Gordon has yet to score his first NFL touchdown, while rushing for just over 500 yards in 11 games.
Fellow back Danny Woodhead has been paramount to the Chargers' success in the passing game, but he has brought little to the table as a rusher. As a whole, the San Diego run game has sputtered its way to the worst yards per carry average in the NFL at just 3.4. The Chargers also have just two rushing touchdowns to their credit in 11 games, both of which were scored by the undersized Woodhead.
In all fairness, much of the Chargers' struggles on the ground this season can be attributed to an offensive line decimated by injury. An issue that persists heading into this game is compounded by facing off against a Broncos defense that is almost as stingy against the run as the pass. Denver ranks second in the NFL against the run (88.7 ypg). It would be an understatement to say that San Diego will have a very difficult time finding running room on Sunday afternoon.
Philip Rivers is a worthy adversary, but the Chargers' largely one-dimensional offense will have a difficult time moving the football against the NFL’s best and most complete defense. If the Chargers stand any chance of beating the Broncos, they will need a sputtering rushing attack to have an unprecedented huge day. The Chargers also will need a big performance from their underachieving defense.
The Broncos' defense will bring their A-game as usual. The Denver offense will need C.J. Anderson and the rest of the run game, to continue playing at a high level. That shouldn’t be a problem against a generous San Diego defense. What is concerning is the lack of chemistry between Brock Osweiler and star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Thomas has just four catches for 21 yards in Osweiler’s two starts since replacing Peyton Manning. If Osweiler and Thomas can finally get on the same page this week, the Broncos' offense should be firing on all cylinders. Even if that doesn’t materialize, Denver still has more than enough firepower to get past San Diego.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Chargers 13
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.