KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
2006 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 4th (2nd rush, 11th pass); defense 8th (6th rush, 15th pass). Broncos: offense 19th (4th rush, 27th pass); defense 13th (5th rush, 27th pass) PREDICTION: Chargers 23-20
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson is second in the league in rushing and has 15 touchdowns over his past five games, but he has averaged just 52.8 yards in five career games in Denver. Anything Tomlinson can produce on first and second down takes pressure off QB Philip Rivers, who has shown plenty of poise but is still making his first start in hostile Denver.
Defensively the Broncos have some tough choices. If they crowd the line against San Diego, Philip Rivers has shown the ability to beat them. If they drop back, they're in danger of allowing a big day to LaDainian Tomlinson. The Broncos probably won't blitz as much as they did against the Raiders last week.
The Broncos' own running game has struggled of late with RB Tatum Bell nicked up and LT Matt Lepsis out for the year. The Broncos don't often run that well against the Chargers and their strong defensive line. Denver usually has problems against a 3-4 defense.
With the ground game sputtering, QB Jake Plummer has increasingly turned to his tight ends in the short passing game.
The Chargers goal Sunday is to keep Plummer in the pocket. But he is so shifty and the offense is designed with so many rolling pockets and bootlegs it always seems like Plummer is on the run. But with Shaun Phillips' sore calf having another week to heal the Chargers are hopeful Plummer won't move around with the same ease he usually does. It's imperative the Chargers' pass rush makes Plummer uncomfortable, otherwise he could pick on a secondary which has had its confidence tested of late.
But the outcome could hinge on the Chargers' ability to prevent WR Javon Walker from cashing in on back-breaking big plays downfield.
Have lost 10 of past 11 games in Denver. Rivers has eight touchdown passes and one interception in his past five games.
Have a five-game winning streak against AFC West teams. C Tom Nalen will tie for third-most in franchise history with his 177th start.
Eric Parker (neck) has returned to practice, but he didn't complete all the drills; he is still moving stiffly. He could return to his punt return duties, although the team may go with Keenan McCardell.
Malcom Floyd (ankle) is back practicing. At one time, that would have been no big deal, but Floyd has become a favorite target of QB Philip Rivers. Floyd has three touchdown catches, which leads all of the Chargers' wideouts.
Ebenezer Ekuban said he hopes to practice Friday, but his chances of playing this week are diminishing. Ekuban, who has a thigh injury, hasn't practiced this week.
DE Patrick Chukwurah missed practice Thursday for the second consecutive day. Unless he can practice Friday through a hamstring injury, he is unlikely to play Sunday.
LB Ian Gold has participated in the warm-up portion of practice Wednesday and Thursday, but not the team portion. Gold has a hamstring injury and is questionable on the injury report.
TE Stephen Alexander did not participate in the team portion of practice Thursday. He did practice Wednesday, but he is questionable with a thumb injury. Alexander stayed in the game after suffering the injury last week. Alexander is a big part of Denver's running game.
OT Erik Pears has held his own since replacing injured LT Matt Lepsis, but the Broncos need a little more out of him. Denver has struggled in the running game the past two weeks without Lepsis, one of the most underrated left tackles in the NFL.