What to watch for in Chargers-Broncos 'TNF' clash

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Coach John Fox's conference-best squad will put first place on the line in a key AFC West battle Thursday night.

Here's what to watch for as Philip Rivers' San Diego Chargers travel to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

COWBOYS AT BEARS
Thursday, Dec. 4, 8 p.m. ET
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Pregame show starts at 6 p.m. ET on NFL Network.


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1. Manning has traditionally struggled against John Pagano's defenses. The record-breaking quarterback gets a reprieve this week with top cornerback Brandon Flowers (concussion) out and impressive rookie Jason Verrett (shoulder) questionable. With pass rusher Melvin Ingram on short-term injured reserve and Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) doubtful, it's going to fall on Dwight Freeney to get after his former Colts teammate. The matchup sets up nicely for Demaryius Thomas, who has been the NFL's hottest receiver over the past three weeks.

2. Rivers faces a much tougher matchup against Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, a fierce pass-rushing tandem on pace to reach their goal of 32 combined sacks. Miller has been as dominant as any defensive player not named J.J. Watt. It's a testament to Rivers' excellence that he leads the NFL in passer rating behind an offensive line that has struggled to give him time this season.

3. If the Bolts end up relying on the ground attack, they can take solace in the fact that Branden Oliver leads all rookies in rushing through seven weeks. The undrafted rookie is averaging 128 yards from scrimmage since taking over the backfield three weeks ago. It will be a strength-on-strength matchup against a Broncos defense that ranks third against the run.

4. Just as Oliver has emerged in San Diego, Ronnie Hillman is responsible for the best three games by a Denver back this season, averaging 94 yards from scrimmage since taking over for Montee Ball. Missing Manti Te'o at inside linebacker, the Chargers run defense is allowing 4.5 yards per carry.

5. After scoring 10 touchdowns as a rookie, Keenan Allen has yet to reach paydirt this season. Throws in Allen's direction have resulted in a passer rating of just 79.9, per Pro Football Focus, compared to 140.2 for Malcom Floyd, who leads the NFL with 20.6 yards per catch. Defenses have been taking Allen away, wide receivers coach Fred Graves explained this week. That's unlikely to change at Denver, with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris jumping on underneath routes. Along with Miller, Harris has made a particularly impressive return from ACL surgery.

6. Written off this summer as the declining player standing in the way of a Ladarius Green breakout, Antonio Gates is enjoying an Indian summer age-34 season. The potential Hall of Famer is second only to Julius Thomas in touchdowns by a tight end this season. With Broncos cornerbacks tying up Allen, Rivers will need Gates to beat linebackers Thursday night.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Week 7 game, and breaks down Peyton Manning's record-breaking night. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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