San Diego Chargers (0-1) at Denver Broncos (1-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX ()
SERIES: 97th meeting. Broncos lead series, 52-43-1, although the Chargers have won four straight against Denver. The Chargers' two consecutive wins in Denver marks the first time they've done that since 1967-68.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers want to test the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense from last season and try to get RB LaDainian Tomlinson untracked early - he averaged 4.3 yards per carry in two meetings last year. The better they can run the ball, the more the Chargers can keep the crowd out of the game and control the tempo. QB Philip Rivers completed just four passes to his wideouts in Week 1, but that number should rise significantly if L.T. is having success. ... The Broncos get WR Brandon Marshall back from suspension to join emerging star Eddie Royal. Denver can spread the field and attack - as long as the young offensive line holds up against a San Diego pass rush that is without injured OLB Shawne Merriman. The Broncos will also test their ground game plenty after the Chargers were torched for 142 rushing yards by Carolina.
KEY INJURIES: Chargers: Tomlinson (toe) had X-rays that were negative and said he's fine; C Nick Hardwick (foot) and LT Marcus McNeill (neck) might return to practice next week; TE Antonio Gates (toe, hip contusion) is less than 100 percent but will play. Broncos: C Tom Nalen (knee) is limited in practice and there's no timetable for his return.
FAST FACTS: Rivers is 4-0 as a starter against Denver. ... The Broncos are 6-0 when QB Jay Cutler has a passer rating of at least 100. He has a career 97.0 rating at home.
--LT Marcus McNeill (neck) is still limited to working on the side with the strength coaches. He hopes to return to practice next week.
--TE Antonio Gates (toe) will play on Sunday, although he was limited in his work on Thursday. He is nursing a sore hip as well.
--OLB Jyles Tucker has been inserted into the starting lineup with Shawne Merriman going on IR.
--C Nick Hardwick is easing into the practice mode and is showing considerable progress. He could return to play in the next couple of weeks.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) didn't practice again Thursday and coach Norv Turner didn't sound optimistic about his working Friday. If Cromartie can't go Sunday, he would be replaced by either Antoine Cason or Cletis Gordon.
--OLB Marques Harris will be a big part of the rotation on passing downs, switching in and out with Jyles Tucker.
--C Tom Nalen practiced for two straight days, but he won't return for a while. Nalen barely practiced in training camp and missed the entire preseason, so he'll need time to get back into shape.
--LB Boss Bailey practiced without limitations for a second straight day on Thursday and could reclaim his starting spot this week. He was active but didn't start last week. He missed almost all of the preseason with a high ankle sprain.
--LB Louis Green missed another practice Thursday. He appears unlikely to return as he nurses a hamstring injury.
--QB Jay Cutler said his knee feels fine and he has practiced without limitations this week. Cutler took a hard shot from Oakland CB Nnamdi Asomugha but stayed in the game.
--DE Elvis Dumervil will have to play with a cast on his broken pinkie finger for a few more weeks. He said he made some plays on Monday but still didn't feel 100 percent and his numbers could take a bit of a dip until he is fully healthy.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson took another day Thursday as he continues to mend the sprained toe he suffered in Sunday's loss the Panthers.
Tomlinson, the two-time defending NFL rushing champion, has yet to take a practice snap this week as the Chargers prepare for Sunday's game in Denver. Should there be cause for concern? Knowing the Chargers' history with toe and foot injuries -- tight end Antonio Gates and center Nick Hardwick -- the answer is "yes."
But Tomlinson said he expects to return soon.
"I'm all right; I will practice (Friday)," Tomlinson said. "It's just a sprained toe, that's all. But you try and get as much rest as you can and you have to take it. It's the heat of the season -- you don't really have time. You got games; it's not preseason any more. On Sunday, I think I should be pretty good."
The Chargers need a healthy Tomlinson to help avoid an 0-2 start. In their franchise history, the Chargers have started 0-2 10 times and made the playoffs just once.
Getting to .500 at the Mile High City is no easy chore. But despite the Broncos dominating this series for years, the Chargers have won four straight against them and completed a sweep to the tune of 64-6.
But health is already a concern for the Chargers, who would fall two games off the AFC West pace with another loss.
The Chargers would love to point Tomlinson at the Broncos' defense to see if it really is improved. Denver was 30th in stopping the run last year and the Raiders, despite being down for most of Monday night, still collected 150 rushing yards in a 41-14 loss.
The Denver Broncos haven't forgotten about what happened in a December loss at San Diego last year, they just aren't talking much about it.
At the end of a 23-3 loss to the Chargers, television cameras caught San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers apparently talking trash to Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler after Denver failed to convert on fourth down. Rivers said he was yelling encouragement at the defense, but the Broncos were still upset.
Now that they have San Diego coming up this Sunday, the Broncos don't want to say much. "He doesn't play defense, so I am not worried about it," Cutler said.
The Broncos do remember what happened during that game, which wasn't isolated to just the Rivers-Cutler incident. They thought the entire Chargers team had a lot to say.
"You always remember things like that, but to the victors go the spoils," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "They beat us up twice last year so they can talk all they want. Until we get the edge on them, it's hard for us to say anything." Denver knows it has to compete better against the Chargers, who have won four in the row in the series, and they could use last year as extra motivation.
"Oh yeah, they rubbed it in, the way they beat us and some of the things that were said and done on the field," cornerback Dre Bly said. "A lot of that stuff we remember, but they've played well the last three or four years and they have a lot of big-time players so I guess they felt like they've earned that right. But we remember everything, and this year we feel everything is going to be different."
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