How the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos match up:
Chargers (2-2) vs. Denver (0-4)
When the Chargers have the ball
During a season spent mostly losing players, the Chargers finally welcome one back Sunday with the return of Melvin Gordon. The running back missed nine weeks because of a holdout that failed to produce a contract extension. Gordon could start against Denver, but coach Anthony Lynn will closely monitor how much he’s using a player trying to catch up physically. Mentally, Gordon should be fine. “I think one thing that he has done — at least I can tell early on — is that he didn’t mentally check out and is now [saying], ‘Oh, I’ll turn it on,’” Lynn said. “He has been trying to stay in it as much as he can without being here.” Without Gordon, the Chargers averaged 103.5 yards rushing per game, which ranks 18th in the league but is better than Kansas City, New England and the Rams. The Broncos have the third-worst rushing defense in the NFL, meaning Gordon picked a good opponent for his 2019 debut. Denver also will be without outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who was lost for the season last week because of a torn ACL. The Broncos still have edge rusher Von Miller, however, a player Lynn called “one of the best game-wreckers” in the league.
When the Broncos have the ball
Denver is winless but hardly hapless. Quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns last week, two of those going to Courtland Sutton. Unlike the Chargers’ winless opponent a week ago, the Miami Dolphins, the Broncos have been in every one of their games despite an offense that has sputtered trying to produce. Denver scored only 46 points over its first three games before generating 24 in Week 4. The Chargers struggled to contain running back Phillip Lindsay when the Broncos came to Carson last season and won 23-22 on a last-second field goal. Lindsay had 79 yards and two touchdowns in 11 carries. But after surrendering 203 yards rushing to Indianapolis in their opener, the Chargers have given up only 205 in the three games since. The Chargers could be without edge rusher Melvin Ingram and linebacker Thomas Davis, both of whom were limited by injuries all week in practice. But overcoming missing personnel has been the theme of this Chargers season, and they do have depth at those two positions. All things considered, the Chargers should have the advantage in this matchup.
When they kick
Assuming he gets the opportunity to attempt a field goal or extra point, Chase McLaughlin on Sunday will become the ninth man to do so for the Chargers since Lynn took over as coach before the 2017 season. During that same time, the Broncos have had one kicker — Brandon McManus. McLaughlin, an undrafted rookie out of Illinois, joined the team Wednesday because of a left foot injury to Ty Long. Signed to be the Chargers’ punter, Long also kicked during the first four games because of a groin injury to Michael Badgley. Wanting to protect Long from potential further problems, the Chargers brought in McLaughlin. One thing is certain: If either kicker wins this game on a late field goal, the kick could be called a Big Mc.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
This is a game, on paper at least, that the Chargers should win without too many issues. But the Chargers on paper often are nothing like the Chargers in reality. After a month of nondivisional games, they encounter their first AFC West rival, which is another reason this one will be closer than most anticipate.
CHARGERS 23, BRONCOS 21