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Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos
When and Where: Sunday, Dec. 30, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver, Colo., 4:25 p.m. EST.
The Los Angeles Chargers make their play for the AFC West title and potentially home-field advantage throughout the playoffs Sunday when they close the regular season on the road against the Denver Broncos.
The Chargers (11-4) at worst will be the top wild card in the AFC, but a victory coupled with a Kansas City Chiefs loss to the Oakland Raiders would make them the No. 1 seed in the conference and send the AFC playoffs through Carson, California.
Chargers focused on task at hand after humbling loss
Los Angeles (11-4) missed out controlling its own destiny last weekend after arguably its worst performance of the season, a 22-10 setback to Baltimore on Dec. 15. The Chargers were held to a season-low 198 yards and committed a season-worst three turnovers, one of which resulted in a defensive touchdown by the Ravens in the fourth quarter that consigned them to defeat.
That loss, along with their 23-22 setback at home to the Broncos in Week 11 that account for Los Angeles’ only two defeats in the last 12 games, has led to a renewed focus on the things the Chargers themselves can control.
“Let’s focus on us, get back to playing the way we’ve played most of this year,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “Offensively, we’ve got plenty of things to work on this week.”
One thing is getting top running back Melvin Gordon III back into game shape for the postseason. Gordon had 12 carries for 41 yards in the loss to Baltimore in his first action after missing four games with a knee injury.
While it may be too big an ask for Gordon to get the 157 yards he needs for a second straight season with 1,000, he is the key cog to a ground game that averages 117.1 yards and was held to 85 in two of the four games he did not play.
On the defensive side, Joey Bosa is quickly making up for lost time and has recorded all of his 4.5 sacks — good for second on the Chargers — in the last five games after missing the first 10 with a foot injury.
The 37-year-old Rivers is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career with 4,132 yards passing and 31 TDs. He needs three scoring tosses to match his career high of 34 set in 2008 and has an outside chance to set a new personal best for completion percentage. Rivers, who has a 68.8 percent rate this season, set his career standard at 69.5 in 2013.
Keenan Allen is seven receptions shy of his second straight 100-catch season and nine from equaling his franchise record of 102 set in 2017.
Broncos look to avoid consecutive 10-loss seasons for first time in 51 years
Denver (6-9) has already assured itself of back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since a 10-season run from 1963-72. The Broncos now need a win in this game to avoid their first back-to-back seasons with 10 or more losses for the first time since recording five straight from 1963-67 while in the AFL.
Their current skid is at three following Monday night’s 27-14 defeat at Oakland that appears to all but have assured Vance Joseph will not return for a third season as head coach.
There were breakdowns in all three phases of the game as the special teams allowed a 99-yard punt return in the first quarter after failing to successfully down a punt. Quarterback Case Keenum threw two interceptions and the defense let a Raiders team that entered the game averaging below 100 rushing yards have its second 100-yard rusher of the season.
“I think a lot of guys need to take a reality check and see where you’re at,” defensive end Adam Gotsis told the Denver Post. “Look at what you can do to help the team. I know especially on our D-line, we haven’t stopped, and that’s one thing we take pride in. Whether it’s me or Shelby (Harris) getting a sack, whoever it is, that just shows the work ethic in our room.”
The parts have been greater than the sum of the whole for the Broncos as certain players are having productive seasons. The most productive of them — rookie running back Phillip Lindsay — will miss this game after suffering a season-ending wrist injury that will also sideline him for the Pro Bowl.
Lindsay did at least clear 1,000 yards before the injury as he totaled 46 yards to finish with 1,037 — the second-highest total in NFL history by an undrafted rookie running back. Fellow rookie Royce Freeman will likely get the bulk of the carries and needs 39 yards for 500.
Rookie outside linebacker Bradley Chubb needs 2.5 sacks to match Jevon Kearse’s NFL rookie record of 14.5 set in 1999. The fifth overall pick is second on the team behind Von Miller (14.5) as Denver is tied for sixth overall with 43 sacks.
The Broncos have not swept the Chargers since 2015 but have won 11 of the last 14 games between the teams. Denver has also won four straight at home in the series since a 27-20 defeat in 2013.
The Broncos are:
- 2-7 ATS in their last nine games vs. AFC West teams.
- 3-8-1 ATS in their last 12 home games.
- 3-13 ATS in their last 16 games following an ATS loss.
- The over is 4-0 in their last four home games vs. the Chargers.
- The over is 7-3-2 in their last 12 Week 17 games.
The Chargers are:
- 8-2-5 ATS in their last 15 road games vs. the Broncos.
- 20-8-1 ATS in their last 29 road games.
- 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games following a double-digit loss at home.
- The over is 5-2 in their last seven road games.
- The over is 10-2 in their last 12 Week 17 games.
- The over is 4-1 in their last five games following a straight up loss