OT Marcus McNeill (Donald Miralle/Getty)
Big-time players step up in big-time games. So who will get the job done this week with the AFC West Championship on the line? Samantha Fillerup answers that question by profiling five players to watch in this winner-take-all affair.
1. QB Philip Rivers is enjoying one of the finest campaigns in franchise history. On the verge of totaling his first 4,000-yard season, Rivers needs just 198 yards to reach the feat. He is also just two touchdown passes away from breaking Dan Fouts' franchise record (33).
Rivers is in the midst of an escalating rivalry with Broncos QB Jay Cutler, who has passed for 4,210 yards, 24 TDs and 16 interceptions this season. Rivers wants to show-up his foe as he faces a pass defense that ranks No. 27 in the league and allows an average of 230.3 yards per game.
2. OT Marcus McNeill has his work cut out for him as he and his cohorts work to protect Rivers, who has been sacked four times over the last two games. McNeill must protect Rivers' blindside so he can go about carving up Denver's secondary.
McNeill will be matched against Elvis Dumervil, who is one of the fastest pass-rushers in the game. Dumervil has only five sacks on the season, but he's logged two in the last four games. McNeill must ride this speedy defensive end wide to give Rivers a spacious pocket.
3. LB Tim Dobbins was responsible for recovering the pivotal fumble that was miscalled by Ed Hochuli in Week 2. In the rematch, he will work to shut down the Broncos' inside running game without being too much of a liability against the pass. The Chargers allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to rush for 111 yards last week; the Bolts must limit the Broncos to about half that number.
In the controversial Week 2 battle, Denver rolled up 145 rushing yards. Dobbins will look to trim that number and hopefully make some big plays in the process; he will be on the lookout for another turnover to make up for the one that was stolen from him.
4. CB Antonio Cromartie has been lackluster at best, as he has just two interceptions this season, both of which came in Week 3 against the New York Jets. He must play tighter coverage, force turnovers and avoid costly penalties, which he has been guilty of far too many times this year.
Denver WR Brandon Marshall dominated Cromartie in the meeting earlier this year, catching a humiliating 18 passes for 166 yards and one TD. He has 98 catches for 1,210 yards and six TDs this season and will join Cutler in the Pro Bowl. If Cromartie is ever going to rebound from his free-fall, this is the week he needs to do it.
5. LB Anthony Waters returns after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. He'll fill in on special teams for LB Brandon Siler, who will likely miss the game with a foot injury. Waters must raise his game to ensure Denver's potent offense is not gifted any short fields.
Rookie Eddie Royal leads Denver's special teams. He averages 26.1 yards per kickoff return, same as Darren Sproles, and averages 10 yards per punt. The Chargers coverage teams must maintain their lane-discipline against the Broncos or risk letting Royal break a big one.