Chargers vs. Denver Broncos matchups, how to watch and prediction

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler carries the ball Jan. 1, 2023, against the Rams.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler carries the ball during Sunday’s 31-10 victory over the Rams. How much the Chargers’ starters play Sunday at Denver is contingent on Baltimore’s result earlier in the day.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (10-6) and the Denver Broncos (4-12) match up heading into their game at 1:25 p.m. PST on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. The game will be shown on CBS (Ch. 2) and streamed on NFL+.


When Chargers have the ball

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws before a game Dec. 26, 2022.
Quarterback Justin Herbert, above, and the Chargers have been on a roll, but might backup Chase Daniel get on the field early and often Sunday?
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Entering Sunday, the potential content in this space is as opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum as the NFL careers of Justin Herbert and Chase Daniel.


It’s impossible to know exactly what to expect when the Chargers have the ball against Denver because no one can be sure yet who those Chargers will be. If Baltimore wins earlier Sunday at Cincinnati, the Chargers will need to beat the Broncos to claim the AFC’s No. 5 seed. That means Herbert will play. If the Ravens lose, this game against Denver becomes meaningless, which could lead to Daniel playing sooner and more than he ever has for this team.

Earning the No. 5 seed in the AFC makes a big difference, the sixth seed possibly facing powerful Cincinnati or Buffalo and No. 5 possibly getting AFC South winner.

Jan. 5, 2023

One certainty is that the Chargers will have a chance to build on perhaps their most complete offensive performances of the season. In a 31-10 victory over the Rams, they produced four touchdowns, 192 yards rushing and a 119.9 ranking for Herbert, his second-best mark of the season.

The Broncos have not reached 4-12 because of a leaky defense. Denver is in the top 10 in points and yards allowed. The Broncos rank second defensively on third down and are tied for fourth in the red zone, an area where the Chargers have struggled. So, for an opponent that sits in last place in the AFC West, Denver is hardly a bottom-of-the-barrel defense.


When Broncos have the ball

Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Rams on Dec. 25, 2022.
The Broncos have scored the fewest points in the NFL in quarterback Russell Wilson’s first season with the team.
(Marcio J. Sanchez / Associated Press)


No team has scored fewer points than the Broncos, who have been so bad people are left pondering the future of Russell Wilson, a once near-iconic quarterback in Seattle.

This season, Wilson has fewer touchdown passes than Davis Mills and a worse rating than Matt Ryan and has been sacked more often than every quarterback not named Justin Fields.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners in NFL Week 18. The Bengals will beat the Ravens while Chargers win and Rams lose.

Jan. 6, 2023

Denver is finishing under an interim head coach in Jerry Rosburg and with its third play-caller of the season in Justin Outten. In his debut a week ago, Outten helped Denver take a lead into the fourth quarter at Kansas City before falling 27-24. Wilson, once known for his running but not so much the last two years, did score a pair of rushing touchdowns against the Chiefs.

The Chargers have had four strong defensive performances in a row, but there is a caveat. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced: an injured Ryan Tannehill, a rusty Nick Foles and a cast-aside Baker Mayfield. The Chargers limited Wilson to 15 completions, 188 yards passing and one touchdown — and sacked him four times — in Week 6, a 19-16 Chargers win.


When they kick

The Chargers’ special teams are vastly improved, coach Brandon Staley crediting his new coordinator, Ryan Ficken, and his assistant, Chris Gould. Staley praised new punter JK Scott, long snapper Josh Harris and returner DeAndre Carter.

The Chargers even have had success with each of three kickers — Cameron Dicker, Dustin Hopkins and Taylor Bertolet.

Denver’s Brandon McManus has made 27 of 35 field-goal attempts and 21 of 23 extra-point tries.

Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Chargers could be playing for seeding in the postseason. Or maybe not. The Broncos are playing to reach the conclusion of a staggeringly underwhelming season.