Can Willis McGahee average more than 3.3 yards per carry against the Chargers this time? (Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE)

Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers: Game Preview

There hasn’t been a bigger regular season matchup for the 6-3 Denver Broncos heading into this week’s game against the 4-5 San Diego Chargers. With a win, the Broncos could essentially have a four-game lead over the second place Chargers in the race for the best in the AFC West.The Broncos are going for their fifth consecutive win while the Chargers are trying to avenge their last meeting, a blowout loss in which the Broncos put up 35 unanswered points after being down by 24 points at halftime. Since the two teams last met, the Broncos have not lost a game while the Chargers have gone 1-2. The last time the Broncos swept the Chargers was in 2005. The Broncos own a 56-48-1 advantage over the Chargers all-time. Kickoff is set for 2:25 p.m. MDT on CBS.

Offense

Broncos: The Broncos’ passing game is on fire. It’s the running game that’s struggled as of late. The Chargers only gave up 57 yards on the ground in the first meeting. The Broncos will need Willis McGahee to put his recent struggles behind him (he fumbled twice last week), and balance out this offense. Peyton Manning has thrown for over 300 yards in six of his last seven games, and he had 309 passing yards and three touchdowns in week 6. The Broncos are 3rd in yards per game (395.1) and 2nd in points per game (30.1). Still, there’s room for improvement because the sky’s the limit with this offense.

Chargers: The story of the Chargers’ offense has been turnovers. With 12 interceptions, Philip Rivers is on pace to set a new career-high. He’s also fumbled the ball six time (losing three). The fourth quarter has been Rivers’ demise. He ranks 33rd in the league in passer rating (56.5) for the final quarter. You can tell he’s missing Vincent Jackson. Rivers connected with Antonio Gates for two touchdowns in week 6, but he threw four interceptions during the game. The opportunities for picks will present themselves for the Broncos’ defense especially with pressure coming up front. Ryan Mathews has a lot of talent, but the Chargers aren’t letting him spread his wings as he’s averaging 67.9 rushing yards per game when he’s capable of much more. The Chargers are 22nd in yards per game (334.6) and 17th in points per game (23.2).

Defense

Broncos: This is a play-making, opportunistic defense. It seems like if the offense is dragging, the defense always seems to lift them with a turnover or even a defensive score. The team is 3rd in forced fumbles and 1st in sacks. Von Miller is making a strong case for himself for being named the defensive player of the year. He’s 2nd in the league in sacks and 1st in tackles for a loss. The Broncos created six turnovers the last time they played the Chargers which is what got them back in the game. It will be interesting to see if and how much the Broncos use  linebacker D.J. Williams who is back from a 9-game suspension. Wesley Woodyard will remain at weakside linebacker.

Chargers: The best looking side of the Chargers is on defense. They’re 7th in yards allowed per game (317.0), 11th in points allowed (21.2), and 2nd in run defense. The Chargers have an experienced secondary that is very capable of making big plays. Quentin Jammer intercepted Manning in the last outing, and Eric Weddle and Antoine Cason are always a threat. Even though the Chargers have some veterans back there, they’re still giving up big plays. Five different Broncos’ receivers had catches for at least 21 yards. If there’s an opportunity to isolate Demaryius Thomas on any one of these corners, it would be in the Broncos best interest to take a shot down field.

Special Teams

Broncos: There’s no one that gets the heart pumping like Trindon Holliday. The return specialist returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago, and then returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown last week. Also give credit to the Broncos’ coverage units. They’re allowing just 3.5 yards on punt returns and 21.8 yards on kick returns.

Chargers: The Chargers had a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown against the Buccaneers last week. The Chargers know better than anyone else that special teams can make or break a season. In 2010, the team was ranked 2nd in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense, yet they didn’t make the playoffs.

Coaching

Broncos: It will be interesting to see how John Fox and Jack Del Rio handle D.J. Williams’ return. Will they play a little 3-4 defense? Overall, the Broncos’ coaching staff is much more talented than the Chargers’ staff and it showed when the Broncos were able to come back from 24 points down in the last meeting.

Chargers: Norv Turner is absolutely out the door at the end of the season. The Chargers wouldn’t really have anyone to call the offensive plays if he were to be fired mid-season.

Prediction: Broncos – 34 Chargers- 21

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