GAME PLAN: The Chargers' Philip Rivers can win a passing title and with Denver potentially missing Champ Bailey at left cornerback, it's likely he'll try to push the field -- especially to Vincent Jackson, with Antonio Gates, Mike Tolbert and perhaps Malcom Floyd not expected to play.
The contest will be Denver's first look at Ryan Mathews, the Chargers' rookie running back who has had an uneven season while battling high ankle issues. He'll try to use his speed to get out on the flanks against Denver, which has struggled with contain issues all season but did an OK job on Houston's Arian Foster last Sunday.
San Diego, on the other hand, sees Tim Tebow for the first time. And after the Chargers' cornerbacks struggled last week, Denver may take some shots to Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney -- provided the pass protection can hold up. Quick timing shots to Eddie Royal and screens to the running backs will augment that strategy and allow Tebow to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos Ss Brian Dawkins and Nate Jones vs. Chargers TE Randy McMichael: Several teams have run misdirection plays, then thrown back across the field to a wide open tight end sneaking into the pattern to burn Denver's defense. Houston's Owen Daniels had eight catches for 73 yards and a TD last week. Tony Moeaki of Kansas City and Zach Miller of Oakland led their teams in receptions in two of the previous three games. With all the attention on Mathews and Jackson, McMichael may find himself loose a few times.
Broncos C J.D. Walton vs. Chargers NT Antonio Garay: The Chargers may have found the next generation of Jamal Williams, possessing not only the size to clog rushing lanes but enough quickness to squirm through and attack the QB. Walton, one of just a half-dozen rookies to start every game on the O-line in the NFL this year, is learning by the week. He'll need to play with good pad level and leverage to try and turn Garay when assigned one-on-one. But Walton's first-year cohort, LG Zane Beadles, likely will provide double team help as Denver tries to build on some recent gains running the ball.
INJURY IMPACT: CB Champ Bailey didn't practice Wednesday and admitted his injured heel remains sore and painful. The cornerback will play if he feels OK, and it won't hinge on the meaningless nature of the game from a standings perspective. That said, Thursday is an important day as to whether he may take the field vs. the Chargers.
-- RB Knowshon Moreno (ribs) is struggling with a sore side for the second straight week after coming down hard during Sunday's win over Houston. Denver got solid production from Correll Buckhalter and Lance Ball in his place, and while Moreno will rehab as if he will play, the team won't rush him back if Moreno's ailing.
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