Chargers vs. Broncos preview

Win and they are in. The San Diego Chargers will clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Denver Broncos this weekend and will clinch the division if Kansas City loses at the same time.

"It's going to be a heck of a stretch," says San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, three scores away from setting an NFL season TD record. "Anything can happen."

"It's December," says New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "A good team starts making a push at this point."

The Chargers can win their second division crown in three years, and the NFL season touchdown record can be set for the second consecutive year.

Tomlinson -- whose production is not even slowed by freezing weather (he scored twice on Sunday in Buffalo) – can break the NFL season TD mark set in 2005 by Seattle's Shaun Alexander by notching three scores before the home folks to give him 29 – and counting!

The last time these AFC West rivals met (November 19) – San Diego has not swept the season series since 1982 -- the Chargers became the first NFL team to win back-to-back games after trailing by 17 points or more. And LT scored four times, reaching 100 career TDs in the fewest games ever (89).

"He's the best running back ever, next to Jim Brown," says Broncos defensive tackle Gerard Warren.

SERIES

  BRONCOS CHARGERS
SERIES LEADER 52-40-1  
STREAKS 2 of past 3  
COACHES VS. OPP. Shanahan: 19-7 Schottenheimer: 12-22
LAST WEEK L 23-20 vs. Seahawks W 24-21 at Bills
LAST GAME 11/19/06: Chargers 35 at Broncos 27. San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson has 179 scrimmage yards (105 rush, 74 receiving) & 4 TDs.
LAST GAME AT SITE 12/31/05: Broncos 23, Chargers 7. Denver S John Lynch forces 2 fumbles & records 2.0 sacks that lead to 9 Broncos' points.
BROADCAST CBS (1:15 PM PT): Jim Nantz, Phil Simms. SIRIUS: 143 (Den.), 123 (SD).

STATS

PASSING Cutler (R): 10-21-143-2-2-62.3 Rivers: 232-360-2,600-16-6-93.8
RUSHING T. Bell: 174-782-4.5-2 Tomlinson: 257-1,324 (1L)-5.2-23 (1L)
RECEIVING Walker: 53-871-16.4-6 Gates (TE): 57-694-12.2-6
OFFENSE 304.1 361.8 (2C)
TAKE/GIVE +/- 0 +11 (2L)
DEFENSE 317.2 291.5
SACKS Dumervil (R): 7.0 Merriman, Phillips: 10.5 (T1C)
INTs Bailey: 6 (T3L) Jammer: 4
PUNTING Ernster: 41.9 Scifres: 43.3
KICKING Elam: 77 (23/23 PAT; 18/20) Kaeding: 99 (1C) (45/45 PAT; 18/21 FG)

CHARGERS:

Victory clinches playoff berth. Club has won six games in a row, scoring at least 32 points in four of those six. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer (201) needs one victory to pass Dan Reeves (201) for 6th most wins in NFL history.

Quarterback Philip Rivers completed 73.1 percent of passes (19-of-26) for 222 passing yards and two touchdowns in last meeting. For a 92.1 passer rating. Rivers (123.8) is NFL's highest-rated 4th-quarter passer, completing 49-of-70 (70.0 pct.) for 585 yards with six touchdowns versus zero interceptions.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson (26) needs two touchdowns to tie Shaun Alexander (28, 2005) most in single season. Tomlinson (1,324) needs 176 rush yards for 1,500 for 3rd time in 6-yr career.

Tight end Antonio Gates has 5+ receptions in seven of past eight. Team has won past two versus Denver when wide receiver Eric Parker makes a 25-yd catch.

Defense leads NFL with 44 sacks, topped by linebackers Shawne Merriman (10.5), who had 2.0 sacks last week, and Shaun Phillips (10.5), who has 1+ sacks in four games in row. Phillips has sack in past two versus Denver.

BRONCOS:

Head coach Mike Shanahan is 19-7 (.760) versus San Diego and has guided club to wins in seven of past ten meetings.

Rookie Quarterback Jay Cutler made 1st NFL start last week, passing for two touchdowns, including 71-yarder to rookie Wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Running back Tatum Bell rushed for season-high 133 yards (5.8 avg.) last week and scored career-high three touchdowns in last meeting versus San Diego (12/31/05). Team is 7-1 (.875) when Bell rushes for a touchdown. Rookie running back Mike Bell rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns in Week 11 meeting. Rookie Bell has carried ball 25 times on rushes Nos. 11-20 in game and averages 6.6 yards on those carries.

Wide receiver Javon Walker has converted 22-of-29 receptions (75.9 pct.) on road for 1st downs this season. Walker (871) needs 129 to reach 1,000 for 2nd time in past three seasons. Wide receiver Rod Smith has 110 career receptions versus San Diego – his 2nd most versus any one team (KC, 123).

Defense has limited foes to 20 points or less in nine of 12 games. Club has not allowed San Diego tight end Antonio Gates a touchdown catch in seven meetings. Cornerback Champ Bailey is tied for 3rd in league with six interceptions. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil ranks 2nd among NFL rookies with 7.0 sacks.


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