Broncos v. Chargers Game Preview

The Chargers will start off with RB LaDainian Tomlinson, but Michael Turner and Darren Sproles will probably get their shots at the Denver Broncos' struggling run defense as well with San Diego looking to keep its starters fresh heading into the playoffs.

Denver Broncos (5-9) at San Diego Chargers (9-5) ==================================================
Monday, 8:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/07
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 96th meeting. Broncos lead the series 52-42-1, but San Diego beat Denver soundly in the first meeting this year. On Oct. 7, the Chargers won 41-3, the worst home loss for the Broncos since 1966. San Diego has won three in a row against Denver.

PREDICTION: Chargers 27-24

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Jay Cutler is playing his best football of the season, but now the running game has turned inconsistent. Cutler should have success against San Diego's secondary, but he needs RBs Selvin Young and Travis Henry to produce on early downs so he's not exposed to the Chargers' aggressive pass rush. Stress relievers: The Chargers will start off with RB LaDainian Tomlinson, but Michael Turner and Darren Sproles will probably get their shots at the Denver Broncos' struggling run defense as well with San Diego looking to keep its starters fresh heading into the playoffs. With QB Philip Rivers still less than 100 percent, the Chargers don't want to put him in any more long passing downs than they have to.

KEY INJURIES: Broncos: LB Ian Gold (knee) and TE Daniel Graham (ankle sprain) could miss the final two games; WR Brandon Stokley (knee) should play. Chargers: OLB Shawne Merriman (knee) could be a game-time decision. QB Philip Rivers (knee) and DT Jamal Williams (ankle) are among those who could be rested early.

FAST FACTS: Cutler has five TDs, no INTs and a 118.7 passer rating the past two games. ... Chargers CB Antonio Cromartie has a franchise-record 10 interceptions this season.


--LB Ian Gold missed his second straight day of practice with a knee injury. He would need to make strides the next couple of days to have a chance to play against San Diego on Monday.
--TE Daniel Graham could practice Friday, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. Graham has a high ankle sprain, but he said it is improving.
--WR Brandon Stokley has practiced all week, albeit with limitations. He should be able to play against the Chargers.
--WR Javon Walker hasn't been limited in practice all week. Still, he's not 100 percent because of a lingering knee injury. If Brandon Stokley plays, Walker's playing time will probably be limited as a third receiver.
--DE Tim Crowder could get more playing time the last two weeks. John Engelberger has started, but Crowder is an up-and-coming player who should start next year, so the Broncos might want to give him a head start in the final two games.

--QB Philip Rivers didn't take all the reps, but enough to stay sharp. Rivers (knee) will go Monday night.
--DT Jamal Williams (ankle) didn't work, but he often doesn't practice on the first workout day of the week. Williams could get a quick hook Monday.
--LB Shawne Merriman (knee) was limited in practice. He could go Monday, although the Chargers might be cautious. Marques Harris would replace him.
--DE Luis Castillo (ankle) was limited in practice. He'll be questionable.
--FB Lorenzo Neal (leg) is out through the regular season but thinks he might have a shot at the playoffs.
--RT Jeromey Clary (shoulder) worked and is fine.
--RB Michael Turner (shoulder) was limited in his work. He could be questionable for Monday.


Tight end Tony Scheffler stayed second on the depth chart when the Broncos signed Daniel Graham to a big contract this offseason.

Now that Graham is nursing a high ankle sprain, Scheffler could get a chance to show he can be a full-time tight end. Graham hasn't practiced all week and doesn't know if he will play.

Scheffler has been effective as a receiver coming off the bench, but wants to show he is an all-around player.

"That's what I need to do, is step up and show the coaches that I can be just as effective in the run game as I am in the passing game," Scheffler said.

Scheffler expected to make strides in his second season, after finishing strong his rookie year. He broke his foot in May, which cost him most of the minicamps and training camp. He returned to play, but he still isn't 100 percent.

"The pain is still there," Scheffler said. "I've learned to put it in the back of my head the last month. Hopefully, with the offseason, I'll be 100 percent next year."

Scheffler has had a solid season. He had his first career 100-yard game and a touchdown last week against Houston. Still, despite his 40 catches and 460 yards, Scheffler thought he could have done more.

"It's definitely been frustrating all year," Scheffler said.

Maybe Quentin Jammer knows how Shaun Phillips feels. Phillips, a standout linebacker, is often lost in Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman's shadow.

Now Jammer is starting to be overlooked because of Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie. So says his coach, Norv Turner.

It's tough to look past Cromartie and his NFL-high 10 interceptions. But Turner said his other starting cornerback, Jammer, deserved a Pro Bowl nod, too.

"I was disappointed Quentin Jammer doesn't receive the acknowledgment because he is one of the best corners in the league in my mind," he said. "He's certainly deserving to be in the game."

But it's tough to make it without an interception. Jammer is solid in run-support, but he's the only starting defensive back on the Chargers minus a pick.

The Chargers did land eight in the Pro Bowl, with Cromartie and left guard Kris Dielman going for the first time. The others headed to Hawaii are running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates, fullback Lorenzo Neal, defensive tackle Jamal Williams and special-teamer Kassim Osgood.

Turner was surprised, as well, that punter Mike Scifres didn't go. Scifres' 46.5 gross average is third best in the NFL.

"I've been with a lot of punters in the league he's the most unselfish," Turner said. "He's extremely talented and it's a shame he's not in the game."

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