Michael Lombardo: This is a much more confident Chargers team than the one that took the field in Week 6. A lot of the same deficiencies are there -- struggling to run the ball and stop the run, for example -- but the team has done a better job of playing to its strengths and masking its weaknesses.
On offense, LaDainian Tomlinson is rounding into form and the O-line is beginning to gel. On defense, the midseason additions of Alfonso Boone and Ian Scott stabilized the defensive line while the revamped nickel package (featuring Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver) shored up the back end.
MJS: It wasn't long ago everyone was writing LT's career was over. How close was he to possibly being released or traded and what has been the biggest factor in his recent comeback?
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
He is still capable of serving up some big games, especially when teams are keying on the pass or when the Chargers are playing with a lead. But he's now the fourth biggest threat on offense (behind Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles) and will likely be released this offseason before his $3 million bonus is due in March.
MJS: How has San Diego prepared on special teams for Denver's return game and what do you expect to be Philip Rivers' main point of attack against the Broncos?
ML: The Chargers have a couple new faces in kick coverage since the meltdown in the first meeting against the Broncos (which is no coincidence). Rookies James Holt and C.J. Spillman have cracked the active rotation and are doing a good job of playing disciplined, aggressive ball on special teams.
As for Rivers, I think he'll lean heavily on Gates as a hot read over the middle. Rivers is completing better than 82 percent of his over-the-middle passes this season, due in large part to the excellent chemistry between he and Gates. Gates has caught at least five balls in eight of nine games this season and is on pace to set a new career-high in receiving yards.
MJS: Obviously, it's a two-team race in the AFC West and without a doubt the biggest game of the season for the Broncos. How important is it for San Diego to split the season series, and if not, do they have what it takes to win the division outright?
SS Kevin Ellison
That being said, I believe the Chargers can still make the playoffs even with a loss, although likely as a wildcard. That can be said for Denver, too.
MJS: Much of Denver's early success came by winning the turnover battle, yet the Chargers were perfect against a very tough Eagles team last week. Who wins this week's turnover battle and how big of a concern is Denver's QB carousel when it comes to San Diego's defense?
ML: If it's Chris Simms at quarterback, I like the Chargers to win the turnover battle. If it's Kyle Orton at the helm, I give the edge to Denver. Even though Simms received all the first-team reps this week, I think it's unrealistic to expect him to come in after such a long layoff and play 60 minutes of clean football. The Chargers will throw a lot of looks at him and they have some playmakers capable of capitalizing.
The Broncos, though, should be able to create some havoc of their own. San Diego's middling ground game puts Rivers in a lot of obvious passing situations, which will give Denver some chances to get after the quarterback. LT Marcus McNeill can't handle Elvis Dumervil one-on-one and RT Jeromey Clary is playing on a bad ankle, so Mike Nolan's unit should be able to exploit some matchups there.
MJS: How's the current injury situation and what effect, if any, will it play on Sunday?
ML: Clary has practiced on a limited basis this week and is expected to start. It's vital that Clary finish the game, because backup Brandyn Dombrowski might literally be one of the 10 worst players in the NFL. Fellow O-lineman Nick Hardwick is out with an ankle injury, but that's been the case since the season-opener.
On the other line, Travis Johnson (groin, shoulder) and Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) will both play through injuries. Behind those two, the Chargers will have their full contingent of inside linebackers for the first time since the earlier face-off against the Broncos, as Tim Dobbins (knee) and Kevin Burnett (ankle) will both play as part of a rotation that will also include Stephen Cooper and Brandon Siler.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.