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Can Broncos play spoiler for surging Chargers?

The Chargers embarrassed the Broncos on their home field in what many consider the worst home loss in Broncos history in Week 5 (Highlights).

The Chargers have gone 7-2 since that game while Denver has struggled to a 4-5 record. Denver has lost its last three road games giving up 102 points (34 per game). The Chargers are playing to secure the third seed in the AFC playoffs to avoid the Patriots until the AFC Championship Game.

Have the Broncos already packed up their belongings for the offseason, or can they come into San Diego and play the spoiler role? You know Mike Shanahan will be ready, as well as his young quarterback, Jay Cutler. The Broncos defense is another story, however. If this game is tight, look for LaDainian Tomlinson to once again put the Chargers on his back and deliver a big game. In LT's last three games against the Broncos he has gained 431 yards of offense and scored seven touchdowns.

Kirwan breaks it down

</center>*The Broncos are eliminated from playoff contention, while the Chargers hope to secure the No. 3 playoff seed. Below is a breakdown of where Denver stands against a playoff-inspired San Diego team:*  

If you like the Chargers ...

  » San Diego beat the Broncos 41-3 in Denver earlier in the year.

  » San Diego is playing for the No. 3 seed, and the Broncos' season is over.

  » Philip Rivers is 3-0 against the Broncos.

  » The Broncos are 2-5 on the road and San Diego has won five consecutive home games.

  » The Broncos have allowed an average of 26 points in their last five games.

If you like the Broncos ...

  » The Broncos have won three of their last four games on Monday Night Football.

  » Javon Walker practiced Friday and should be able to start.

  » Denver has the No. 6 offense in the NFL and San Diego has the No. 16 defense.

  » Denver averages 4.5 yards per rush, third in the NFL. San Diego is No. 17 defensively.

  » Brandon Marshall caught 11 passes for 107 yards last week and needs 14 receptions for 100 on the season.

Key matchups

1. Chargers tight end Antonio Gates vs. strong safety Abdullah Hamza: No secret here, Philip Rivers loves to get the ball in Gates' hands as much as possible. Gates has nine touchdowns and averages 13.2 per catch. Hamza will get exposed down in the red zone when the Chargers open up the Gates alignment and force the safety to take him alone. The Broncos have used their best corner, Champ Bailey, on Gates, which leaves the safety on a wide receiver such as Vincent Jackson, which is also a good match up for San Diego.

2. Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeil vs. defensive end Elvis Dumervil: McNeil has not played as well in 2007 as he did in 2006. He tends to play a bit high and can struggle with undersized speed rushers such as Dumervil who has 11 sacks. Dumervil knows Rivers is not 100 percent healthy and struggles to move around, so he will be looking to take advantage. McNeil will have his hands full in passing situations.

3. Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie vs. wide receiver Brandon Marshall: Cromartie is now a Pro Bowl corner and he leads the NFL in interceptions. Marshall is Cutler's favorite target. These two young rising stars should be lining up against each other for years to come, but this matchup should favor Cromartie after watching Cutler get sacked five times by the Texans last week.

4. Chargers nose tackle Jamal Williams vs. center Chris Myers: Williams is not on the injury report and he is the key to the run defense. Denver would love to run the ball 35 times in this game and needs its backup center Chris Myers to hold up against the All-Pro nose tackle. The advantage has to go to Williams.

5. Chargers fullback Andrew Pinnock vs. middle linebacker D.J. Williams: The Chargers lost their great fullback, Lorenzo Neal, to injury and backup Pinnock did a fine job last week. Tomlinson and Darren Sproles combined for 238 yards and four touchdowns last week in the 51-14 win over Detroit. Pinnock is going to be involved in some big collisions with Williams and as good as this linebacker is, this test should be won by Pinnock.

When the Chargers have the ball

Scoring points hasn't been a problem for the Chargers who have balanced their offense since acquiring Chris Chambers from Miami. Chambers (15.5), Gates (13.2), and Jackson (16.1) present big down-the-field threats. Any extra coverage support ensures the running game comes alive as if they need any more encouragement to run the ball. The Chargers average 4.3 per rush and have been to the end zone 18 times.

Denver is 29th against the run and really should be able to drop a safety in the box whenever Pinnock is in the backfield with Tomlinson because their corners are expected to hold up without help. The truth is Denver doesn't hold up well against the run and they still have surrendered 22 touchdown passes. San Diego should generate close to 30 points and win the time of possession battle.

San Diego has outscored its opponents in the first quarter by 62 points and only the Patriots get off to a faster start.

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