By Jeremy Gonzalez, Sports Editor
Los Angeles Chargers vs Denver Broncos. 1:25 p.m. Mile-High Stadium. Denver, Colo. CBS.
Chargers record: 4-7. The Chargers are coming off a bye week after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 24-17 on Monday Night Football. Phillip Rivers threw four interceptions in the divisional bout in Mexico City.
Broncos record: 3-8. Denver returns home after two losses on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills. The Broncos managed just 134 yards and nine first downs against the Bills.
The bumbling Los Angeles Chargers face off against the struggling Denver Broncos in a matchup of AFC West bottom feeders. The two teams faced off in Week 5, ending with the Broncos upsetting the Chargers at home 20-13.
Broncos star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. helped hold the league’s top receiver at the time, Keenan Allen, to a mere four catches and 18 yards during the first matchup. The constant trash talk between the two players on the field personifies what the rivalry is; a tough dog fight between people who do not like each other very much.
Here’s what to look for as the Broncos and Chargers prepare for the 121st game between the division rivals:
In The Pocket
The Chargers’ leash that is around Phillip Rivers is now tightened after his recent performances that saw him throw seven interceptions over a two-game span, the worst slump of his career. Rivers is now second in the NFL with 14 interceptions this season and the Chargers could bench the ageless veteran if his slide continues in Week 13 against the Broncos.
Rivers had the ball and a chance to avoid defeats in both games, a 26-24 loss at Oakland and a 24-17 loss in Mexico City to the Chiefs. Both times he ended the possible comeback with interceptions.
Sitting at 4-7, two games behind the final AFC wild-card spot, the Chargers shouldn’t be so quick to pull the plug on Rivers, but in the case that they do, Tyrod Taylor is the team’s backup.
Taylor is better known from his time as the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills and more recently the Cleveland Browns, where he made way for rookie Baker Mayfield and never winning back the starting job due to Mayfield’s success during his rookie season.
Rivers has thrown just 15 touchdowns through 11 games this season. He’s never tossed less than 20 scores in a season throughout his career as a starter. Could this be the season where we see the 37-year-old get benched and not reach the stat line of 20 TD passes in a season?
On the other sideline, the Broncos had a quarterback competition leading up to this game, with rookie Drew Lock sharing first-team snaps with Brandon Allen after Allen’s poor performance in Buffalo where he threw for 84 yards in a 20-3 loss. Allen was called into action to replace Joe Flacco, who suffered a neck injury at the season’s midpoint.
Lock was named the starter for the Broncos ahead of Sunday’s game and is expected to be the starter for the remainder of the season. The Broncos’ 134 yards of offense against the Bills were the lowest in the NFL in the last 26 years, so it’s no surprise that the Broncos are electing to start Lock over Allen.
The Chargers lost starting safeties Derwin James and Adrian Phillips early in the season, with James sustaining a stress fracture in his right foot during a practice in August and Phillips breaking his right forearm during the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss at Detroit.
Despite losing two starters, the Chargers are getting things done at safety, ranking fourth against the pass and fifth in the league in defense. And the Chargers delivered some good news ahead of the matchup against the Broncos.
The team activated James and Phillips from the Injury Reserve, making them both available to play in Week 13. With both back on the field, it gives the team a much-needed boost.
No Miller Time
Broncos star linebacker/pass rusher Von Miller limped out of the Denver-Buffalo game. While head coach Vic Fangio insisted it was nothing major, he is inactive for the game against the Chargers due to a knee injury.
This is the first time since 2013 that Miller misses a regular season game. Miller had been finding his Pro-Bowl form recently as he had at least half a sack in five of his last seven games. He’s reached double-digit sacks in every year of his career except in 2013 when he was sidelined.
Time To Run
The stingy Denver defense is only allowing an average of 207.5 yards per game through the air, ranking fifth in the NFL. The Broncos only allowed Bills QB Josh Allen 185 yards through the air last week, proving that they’re tough to pass against. The 3-8 record does not reflect how well their secondary has been playing all year.
However, the Bills found a recipe to beat the Broncos that the Chargers should follow, and that’s running the football. The Denver rush defense allowed 244 yards on the ground against the Bills, allowing an average of 5.2 yards per carry. The Bills’ effectiveness on the ground opened things up for Allen when they did pass.
The Chargers are 3-1 this season when they rush for 100+ yards, giving them more of a reason to establish the running game early. Los Angeles is 1-6 when they don’t rush for 100+ yards, meaning the commitment to the run game could lead to a long day in the office if the Chargers struggle to run.
Opening: LAC. -2.5. 38.5 total.
Saturday night: LAC. -3.5. 38.5 total.
Lightning Rod pick: Despite not having a favorable matchup, Rivers throws for two touchdowns and 200+ yards with no interceptions against the Broncos. Melvin Gordon will lead the team in rushing, opening up the passing game for Rivers to thrive at Mile-High. James gets an interception in his first game back for the Chargers and the team continues to push for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.
Chargers 17, Broncos 14.