KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein; DirecTV, 719
SERIES: 90th meeting. The Broncos lead the series 50-38-1, and beat the Chargers earlier this season. In Week 3, Denver won 23-13, with Ashley Lelie's 33-yard touchdown reception on a fourth-and-nine in the third quarter being the big play of the game.
2004 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 5th (6th rush, 7th pass); defense 8th (5th rush, 12th pass). Chargers: offense 7th (5th rush, 12th pass); defense 12th (2nd rush, 27th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos blitzed Chargers QB Drew Brees often in their Week 3 victory and sacked him four times. But Brees is playing with much more confidence now and has weapons to beat the blitz in TE Antonio Gates and WR Keenan McCardell, so Denver must be more selective.
The Broncos also need to stay close because the Chargers have been strong in the fourth quarter, where Brees owns a league-best 131.7 passer rating. Getting off to a good start is big for Denver after its collapse at home against Oakland last Sunday, and it begins with RB Reuben Droughns finding success against the league's No. 2 run defense.
The Broncos managed just 37 rushing yards in the first meeting, and a repeat of that performance would prevent QB Jake Plummer from setting up the play-action pass and testing unproven CB Drayton Florence.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Have won 10 of the past 12 meetings. ... Coach Mike Shanahan's 13 victories against San Diego is his most against any opponent. Chargers: TE Antonio Gates is one touchdown catch shy of the NFL record (12) for tight ends. ... Brees has thrown a team-record 193 passes since his last interception.
PREDICTION: Chargers 24-23
--DT Luther Elliss took about half the snaps in practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Elliss, who has a calf injury, is still listed as doubtful.
--RB Reuben Droughns has had success against San Diego, even before he became a starting tailback. As a fullback in 2002 and 2003, Droughns scored four touchdowns, and two of them came against the Chargers. Droughns, who is from Anaheim, will have a large group of family and friends at Sunday's game.
--K Jason Elam is the NFL's career leader in extra-point percentage. Elam has hit 478 of 480 extra-point attempts, a 99.6 percent success rate. Indianapolis' Mike Vanderjagt was tied with Elam but missed an extra point against Detroit on Thanksgiving.
--TE Jeb Putzier set career highs in yards and receptions against San Diego the first time the teams played this season. Putzier had five catches for 66 yards, and he could be a factor in the passing game on Sunday.
--CB Roc Alexander could be a difference maker for the Broncos at kickoff return on Sunday. Denver hasn't had a kickoff return of more than 30 yards since Week 3, but the Chargers have had some problems on kickoff coverage lately. A big return by Alexander give the Broncos a boost they haven't gotten from their special teams in a while.
-- The Chargers are holding their breath that K Nate Kaeding shakes
off his mini-slump. Although he hit the game-winner on Sunday, he has
missed two of his last four and three of his last six field goal
-- TE Antonio Gates is one touchdown reception shy of tying the league mark of 12 at his position.
-- CB Drayton Florence will get his second NFL start on Sunday, replacing Sammy Davis.
-- CB Sammy Davis (leg) is out this week.
-- RB Jesse Chatman (toe) was down on Thursday, but he will play this weekend.
-- WR Tim Dwight (toe) didn't work. But he'll take a shot and play on Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The biggest matchup in Sunday's crucial AFC West game between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers might be if the Broncos can run the football effectively.
Based on the first meeting between the teams, that won't be easy. San Diego limited Denver to 37 rushing yards back on Sept. 26, the lowest rushing total for a Broncos team since they gained 35 yards at Kansas City on Sept. 20, 1993. That was two seasons before Mike Shanahan became Denver's head coach.
The Broncos say this time, they'll be more prepared. They won't underestimate San Diego, which is second in the NFL in run defense, and they know what is coming with the Chargers' 3-4 defense. Last season, San Diego ran a 4-3 defense.
"They started playing more aggressive," running back Reuben Droughns said. "They changed to a 3-4 defense, and we were expecting it but we didn't know what to expect from San Diego because we hadn't seen it before."
The biggest difference for the Broncos this time around should be Droughns. Quentin Griffin was starting in Denver's first game, and he had seven yards on 12 carries.
Droughns has six 100-yard games in seven starts at tailback, and the Broncos are going to see if he can have more success than Griffin did.
"(Running the ball is) part of our game and we're not going to shy away from our game," Droughns said. "It's nothing they're going to do to make us shy away from our game."
Shanahan gave San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips a lot of credit for the Chargers' improvement stopping the run. Phillips was Denver's head coach before he was let go and Shanahan was hired.
"When you give (Phillips) good players, he understands how to attack and get his players to play hard," Shanahan said.
The Chargers are for real, aren't they?
They are riding high atop the AFC West, with a one game lead over the Broncos -- who come visiting on Sunday. But two years ago they were 6-1 and missed the playoffs. Three years ago, they were 5-2 and didn't finish strong enough for a postseason berth, losing their final nine.
But quarterback Drew Brees said this team isn't the same as those two.
"Oh heck yeah," said Brees when asked if this season is different.
"Two years ago, and even three years ago, when we were there with a winning record thinking playoffs, it was more like we were just happy to be there. The attitude is a lot different. The confidence is a lot different."
But something can't be ignored. The Chargers may be 8-3, but they are 1-3 against teams with winning records. Fortunately for them, after facing the 7-3 Broncos on Sunday, the rest of their slate has but one winning squad on it: the 8-3 Colts.