Game Scout: Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) At Denver Broncos (6-9)

Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum (4) throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the second half at Oakland Coliseum.Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, Broncos Stadium at Mile High; CBS, Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta

SERIES HISTORY: 118th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 65-51-1. The Broncos have dominated the series at home, going 40-17-1 against the Chargers. Denver has gotten the better of the matchup in recent years. Since the Chargers won four straight from 2009-11, the Broncos have won 12 of 15 in the series, including a 23-22 win in Los Angeles on Nov. 18 that began a three-game winning streak for Denver.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers play this game with an eye to its next. So being aggressive early and getting ahead of a team that isn't known for scoring points would allow the Chargers to keep a passing Philip Rivers from harm's way and allow others to take a blow before the playoffs. Rivers will attack the Broncos' secondary early -- if given time -- and tap the breaks with the lead if all goes well.

Denver quarterback Case Keenum needs to find some success against L.A.'s secondary, but it won't be easy. The Chargers allow opponents 223.9 yards passing, which ranks seventh in the NFL. Los Angeles doesn't get to the quarterback as much and they rank 21st in the NFL in takeaways with 16, so if the Broncos offense can establish a running game and hold onto the ball, they could find success.

Defensively, Denver has some challenges against Rivers. Running back Melvin Gordon is back and gives Rivers another big weapon to use. The Broncos' rushers will need to get to Rivers quickly to take pressure off the banged-up secondary. Rivers isn't a mobile quarterback, but he goes through his progressions fast and usually makes the right decision. Denver's challenge is to rush him into poor choices.



--QUESTIONABLE: TE Sean Culkin (back)


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--Chargers running game vs. Broncos run defense, which is ranked No. 22. Melvin Gordon will be starting his second straight game after missing three with a knee injury. The Chargers are walking a fine line here with needing Gordon to be sharp for the playoffs, but more important, healthy. If the Chargers can get ahead, and even if they don't, a returning Austin Ekeler and rookie Justin Jackson will be in the mix as well. With the focus on getting upfield, the Broncos' defense can be had for some big runs. Todd Davis has a team-high 108 tackles for the Broncos and is usually around the ball.

--Chargers pass protection vs. Broncos two-headed pass rush. The Chargers front line will have to be on their toes in what figures to be a loud Broncos Stadium at Mile High. If the offensive linemen are tardy getting set because of the noise, the Broncos send Von Miller (14.5 sacks) and rookie Bradley Chubb (12) at the pocket. It's around the edges the Chargers have to be concerned about as RT Sam Tevi continues to earn his stripes since becoming a starter.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers WR Keenan Allen. Mike Williams leads the Chargers in scoring receptions, but Allen is closing out another Pro Bowl season. Allen needs seven catches to reach 100 for the second consecutive year and third in his career. Last year he set a franchise mark with 102 receptions. Don't overlook Allen's blocking as he has helped spring many a run.

FAST FACTS: CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS passed for 401 yards with 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs & 91.3 rating in Week 11 meeting. Has 4,132 pass yards & is 1 of 4 QBs in NFL history with 10+ seasons of 4,000+ pass yards. ... RB MELVIN GORDON had rush TD last week. Had 156 scrimmage yards (87 rec., 69 rush) in last meeting. Has 234 scrimmage yards (117 per game) & rec. TD in 2 career games at Den. ... WR KEENAN ALLEN had nine receptions for 89 yards & TD in Week 11 meeting. Has 4 TDs in 3 career games at Den. Needs 7 receptions for 2nd-straight 100+ catch season. ... TE ANTONIO GATES had 80 rec. yards & TD catch in Week 11 meeting. Has 4 rec. TDs in his past 4 at Den. ... DE MELVIN INGRAM had 2 FRs last week. Has 3.5 sacks in his past 4 vs. Den. ... DE JOEY BOSA had 1.5 sacks in his last game at Den. (9/11/17). ... Rookie S DERWIN JAMES is only player in NFL with 90+ tackles (99), 3+ sacks (3.5) & 3+ INTs (3). ... BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM had 202 pass yards & 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs in Week 16. Has career-high 3,598 pass yards in 2018. ... Rookie RB ROYCE FREEMAN had rush TD in last meeting. ... WR COURTLAND SUTTON (rookie) had 65 rec. yards & TD catch in Week 16. Had 78 rec. yards in Week 11 meeting. Ties for 4th among rookies in rec. TDs (4) & ranks 4th in rec. yards (679). Ranks 4th among AFC WRs with 16.6 yards per catch average (min. 40 receptions). ... Rookie WR DAESEAN HAMILTON had TD catch last week. Aims for his 3rd in row on road with rec. TD. ... LB VON MILLER had sack & INT in last meeting. Ties for 3rd in NFL with 14.5 sacks. Since entering league in 2011, leads NFL with 98 sacks. ... Rookie LB BRADLEY CHUBB had sack & 2 TFL in Week 11 meeting. Is only rookie with 10+ sacks (12) in 2018. Miller & Chubb are 1 of 2 pairs of defensive teammates (CHRIS JONES & DEE FORD) with 12+ sacks each this season.

PREDICTION: Plenty of intrigue exists for Los Angeles which can be a No. 5 seed or the top seed. They need to take care of business against Denver and root for the Raiders to beat the Chiefs. While the Chargers could pull starters if Kansas City opens a sizable lead, they should still possess enough to win.

OUR PICK: Chargers, 27-13