QB Philip Rivers (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
If the Chargers can build an early lead and not be stressed in the second half, look for coach Norv Turner to start pulling his starters, especially those nursing injuries. A backfield of Billy Volek, Darren Sproles and Andrew Pinnock isn't that farfetched if the Chargers have a comfortable lead late in the game.
The Chargers will make the Broncos' leaky run defense prove it can stop the NFL's seventh-ranked run offense. If they can get the running game going, that will take pressure off Philip Rivers, who is still slowed by a sprained knee. The Chargers don't want to stress that knee, or Rivers, and would prefer going the sure-fire route with LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles -- both had 100-yard rushing games last week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers OTs Marcus McNeill and Jeromey Clary vs. Broncos DEs Elvis Dumervil and Tim Crowder.
It's imperative, especially when Rivers is at quarterback, that the Chargers are keen in their pass protection. Rivers has a sore knee, which doesn't need any abuse this close to the playoffs. McNeill has suffered a bit of a sophomore slump but plays his best when the game is on the line. Clary is still getting used to his role as a starter after taking over two games ago for Shane Olivea. Clary has a sore shoulder, which is worth watching; he said it is fine. Dumervil has 11 sacks, which ties him for ninth in the NFL; he has had four multi-sack games. Crowder, a rookie, has four sacks.
The Chargers' running game, with LaDainian Tomlinson shooting for his second straight rushing title, vs. the Broncos defense, which has struggled, giving up 140 yards rushing per game.
Tomlinson has picked up steam of late, rushing for 100 yards in each of his last three games. The offensive linemen, fullbacks and tight ends are bent on getting the great Tomlinson another rushing title after he won his first one last year. They will get after the Broncos' front line and a linebacker corps that hasn't played to its usual standards because of injuries to Ian Gold and Al Wilson no longer being on the team.
The Chargers pass defense, which leads the league with 27 interceptions, vs. the Broncos passing game, featuring inconsistent QB Jay Cutler.
CB Antonio Cromartie leads a ball-hawking defense that has been wearing out opposing quarterbacks of late. Cromartie leads the NFL with 10 picks and is the poster boy for a unit that always seems to be around the ball. Cutler is having a decent year (64 percent completion rate, a 90.8 rating and 18 TD passes) but the Broncos are having trouble finishing drives. In six games, they have scored 15 or fewer points. Denver WR Brandon Marshall is the target the Chargers have to be most concerned with.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--LB Marques Harris will get some more playing time, regardless if Shawne Merriman (knee) can go or not.
--RT Jeromey Clary suffered a shoulder injury Sunday but it isn't believed to be serious.
--RB Michael Turner had a minor shoulder injury as well, but he should be fine for Sunday.
--WR Chris Chambers is 150 receiving yards shy of the second 1,000-yard season of his career.
--QB Philip Rivers needs 172 passing yards to reach the 3,000-yard mark. In the Chargers' win over the Broncos earlier this year, he threw for 270 yards.
--S Clinton Hart has collected a career-high four interceptions.
--LB Brandon Siler continues to shine on special teams.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Number of rushing touchdowns needed by LaDainian Tomlinson to give him 15 on the season and mark the fourth straight year he reached that mark, the longest active streak in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've been kind of up-and-down and we've gotten hot at the right time." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson, of the Chargers dropping only two of the last 10 games.
--Rivers (knee) is a go for this week but he could exit the game early.
--DT Jamal Williams (ankle) will start but probably not play much Sunday. This means more work for Brandon McKinney and Ryon Bingham.
--OLB Shawne Merriman is questionable this week. He could very easily sit again; Marques Harris would replace him.
--DE Luis Castillo (ankle) is down at least one more week.
--FB Lorenzo Neal (leg) is out for the final two games, with an outside hope to play in the playoffs.
--Clary (shoulder) said he is fine.
--RB Michael Turner (shoulder) should go Sunday as well.