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Place: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
With Oakland and Kansas City not expected to contend for the division title, San Diego has the opportunity to take a two-game lead on Denver, the defending AFC West champion and only other legitimate threat.
The Chargers are 9-3 against the Broncos since quarterback Philip Rivers took the reins in 2007, while Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is 4-5 all-time against San Diego and has lost five of the last six meetings.
Denver Broncos (2-3): Denver couldn’t handle Tom Brady and the Patriots’ hurry-up offense and lost at New England 31-21 last week. The Patriots recorded a team-record 35 first downs and kept the Broncos’ defense on the field for 35:49, a trend which must be reversed if Denver expects to win. Another issue is wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who made nine receptions for a career-high 180 yards against the Patriots, but lost a fumble for the third straight week.
Manning faces San Diego for the first time in a Denver uniform. He has performed admirably as a Bronco – except for the first quarter in Atlanta when he threw three interceptions – while appearing 100 percent healthy following neck surgeries which forced him to miss the entire 2011 season. Denver will face the NFL’s No. 5 rushing defense, and needs Willis McGahee to repeat his 117-yard rushing performance in last season’s win.
San Diego Chargers (3-2): San Diego led 24-14 last week before previously winless New Orleans scored the game’s final 17 points to deny the Chargers a second consecutive 4-1 start. Rivers has been sacked 14 times, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, and faces two of the league’s top pass rushers in Denver’s Von Miller (five sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (three).
Running back Ryan Mathews is expected to regain his starting spot Monday despite not being on the field during the Chargers’ final drive against the Saints. He had 80 yards rushing and 59 receiving against New Orleans. Mathews, who has shared time in the backfield with Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown, must hang onto the ball: He has 10 fumbles (five lost) in 29 career games.
The Broncos’ minus-6 turnover differential could play right into the hands of an opportunistic Chargers’ defense which has six interceptions and recovered four fumbles.
1. McGahee is the only RB to rush for more than 100 yards against the Chargers in their last 12 games.
2. Mathews has rushed for more than 100 yards in his three games against Denver (127.3 average) with three touchdowns.
3. Denver snapped a four-game losing streak to San Diego with a 16-13 victory in overtime in the second meeting last season. This will be the fourth encounter on Monday Night Football since 2007 – the Chargers won the last meeting 35-10 in 2010.