Broncos Look to Buck Losing Trend

After 11 weeks of play, the Chargers and Broncos sat tied atop the AFC West with identical 5-5 records. The Broncos planned to push the Chargers down the stretch, but came up more than a nose short. When these teams collide in week 16, the Broncos hope to play like a team still in the running.

The Denver Broncos have lost three of their last four games. Their last two losses, to the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, came by a combined score of 65-33. They were officially eliminated from the playoffs last week when the Chargers won the AFC West and the Cleveland Browns pulled out of reach in the wild-card race.

The Broncos will play to win against the Chargers, hoping to build momentum and avoid their first losing season since 1999. However, they will also play some young talent with an eye on next season.

"It's a good challenge for us to at least finish the season on a positive note and have a chance with players that haven't played a lot to see what they can do," said Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.

The Broncos are swarmed with problems on both sides of the ball. On offense, it is the inability to finish drives with touchdowns. The difference between Denver's offensive ranking in yards (sixth) and points (17th) is the largest in the league.

Not helping matters is an inconsistent running game that will not produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2001. That puts more pressure on second-year quarterback Jay Cutler to produce against Antonio Cromartie & Co.

"He's playing really well this season," said Cutler of Cromartie. "He's got a lot of picks. He's taking chances and you can take chances when your front four and your front seven are getting that good of pressure. You've got to keep your eye on him."

The good news for Cutler is that things can't get worse than the last time these teams played. When the teams met at Invesco Field in week five, the Chargers spotted themselves a 10-point lead less than nine minutes into the game and rolled to a 41-3 victory, San Diego's biggest win this season.

Cutler hopes his team will use the lopsided loss as motivation, something that is hard to come by for a team that is eliminated from the playoff chase.

"We talked about it this morning in the meeting, 41-3 or whatever it was," Cutler said. "That's embarrassing. It doesn't happen to this organization often, so hopefully we'll be ready on Monday and have a better showing."

The Chargers hope to jump on the Broncos and take them out of the game early, much like they did last week against the Detroit Lions. That would allow Norv Turner to rest some of his players and keep his team on track for the No. 3 seed.

As the third seed, the Chargers would likely face the Browns in the first round, rather than a Jacksonville Jaguars team that trumped the Bolts in week 11. More importantly, the Chargers would face the Indianapolis Colts in round two rather than the undefeated New England Patriots.

The Chargers won their last two meetings with the Colts, including a 23-21 decision in week 10. Since Eli Manning was drafted in 2004, the Chargers are 3-1 when facing a Manning. The only loss came in road game against the Colts in 2004, when the Chargers blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and fell in overtime.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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