Chargers (11-4) at Denver (6-9)
When Chargers have the ball
They enter about as healthy as they’ve been all season, reserve tight end Sean Culkin (back) the only player by week’s end still dealing with an injury significant enough to report to the league. The Chargers will be looking to rebound from what easily was their worst offensive performance of the season. They totaled 10 points and 198 yards last week in a loss to Baltimore. Running back Melvin Gordon came back against the Ravens after missing three games because of a right knee sprain. He looked all right physically but was unable to establish much, gaining 41 yards in 12 carries. The Chargers had mixed results dealing with Denver pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb when the teams met in November. Miller and Chubb each sacked Philip Rivers once. And protecting the quarterback has been an issue of late. Rivers has been sacked nine times the last two games. The Chargers need a victory to keep alive their chances of winning the AFC West. But they also need an improved offensive showing to enter January and the playoffs feeling more like the unit that helped this team win 10 of 11 games before last week.
When Broncos have the ball
Denver will be without its top running back Phillip Lindsay (wrist) and top wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) for a game that means nothing to the franchise, at least as it relates to this season. Rookie Royce Freeman figures to take over for Lindsay, who was lost Monday as the Broncos were falling to Oakland. In three games without Sanders, quarterback Case Keenum has been relying more on Courtland Sutton. All of which means the Chargers are facing an opponent that is limited on offense. In losing its last three games, Denver has scored 14, 16 and 14 points. In the teams’ first meeting, the Chargers’ defense broke down over the final 18 minutes, allowing the Broncos to score three times — two touchdowns and a field goal — on their final four possessions, one of which began deep in Chargers territory because of a turnover. Given the current state of Denver’s offense, however, the threat of such a finish this time seems to be greatly diminished. Against the Raiders last week, six of the Broncos’ first seven possessions ended in punts and the other in a missed 58-yard field goal.
When they kick
Michael Badgley has been relatively quiet for a couple of weeks after emerging as the long-awaited answer for the Chargers. He is 15 of 16 on field goals and 24 of 25 on extra points. Brandon McManus beat the Chargers during Week 11 with a 34-yard field goal as time expired. He’s 19 of 24 on field goals and has made all 35 of his extra points. The Chargers lost their season opener in 2017 in Denver when a potential tying field goal by Younghoe Koo in the closing seconds was blocked. That moment began a downturn that saw the Chargers roll through five other kickers before settling on Badgley. So, yeah, there’s a little recent history between these AFC West rivals in this category.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
In their regular-season finale, the Chargers have everything to play for — unless they have nothing to play for. A victory or tie means something only if Kansas City loses at home to 4-11 Oakland, a development that sounds about as likely right now as a lobster winning the Kentucky Derby. But this is the NFL, where common-sense results and absurd ones are separated each week by only a handful of plays.
Chargers 28, Broncos 13