Will Kyle Orton Play in Huge AFC Showdown Between Broncos and Chargers?
A month ago, the Chargers were buried and all but finished for the season.
A 34-23 loss at home to Denver was their third in five games to open the year and created a 3½ game hole in the division.
Making matters worse the loss came off a bye week for San Diego and gave their only legitimate challengers in the AFC West a leg up in the first tiebreaker to decide the divisional crown.
Fade out, fade in and the Broncos have yet to win another game while the Chargers are riding a four-game win streak since that Monday night contest.
The Chargers will get another chance at the Broncos as Denver hosts San Diego at Invesco Field on Sunday.
A Bronco victory would provide a lift to a sagging team that is one loss away from matching its four-game skid of last season, when they were eclipsed by these same Chargers on the last game of the year for the divisional crown.
It also would give Denver two victories over the Chargers on the season, wrapping up the first tiebreaker and forcing San Diego to finish the year with a superior record to win the AFC West.
A Charger victory would essentially confirm preseason expectations that all but handed them their fourth straight division title. Their winning streak would extend to five games with the Chiefs, Browns, Titans and Redskins remaining on the schedule.
They would be 7-3 with the December slate of games just ahead, which is worth noting. Norv Turner’s Chargers are 9-0 in December during his tenure in San Diego.
Weighing heavily against the Broncos in Sunday’s game is the health of their starting quarterback.
Kyle Orton has a left ankle sprain and missed his third straight day of practice Friday, according to published reports. Orton sustained the injury in the Broncos’ 27-17 loss at Washington and was replaced by Chris Simms.
Denver head coach Josh McDaniels said Orton is still a possibility for Sunday, but will wait for mobility tests on game day before making a decision.
If Orton does not play, Simms will start despite his poor play against the Redskins. Simms completed just 3-of-13 passes for a total of 13 yards and one interception.
It was the first time Simms had been on the field for any significant playing time since September 2006, when he suffered a ruptured spleen while playing for the Buccaneers. He had the spleen removed and was briefly on the field last season with Tennessee, completing 1- of-2 passes.
The Broncos should get a lift at home, where they are 3-1 this season, including an overtime victory against New England.
But it is their sixth-ranked defense that will have to control the tempo against the Chargers. Denver is 12th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and fifth overall in passing yards.
A major contributor to the Broncos’ pass defense is Elvis Dumervil, who leads the league with 11½ sacks, including two of Philip Rivers in Denver’s win on Oct. 19.
Rivers remains the main engine that drives the Chargers with a passer rating that ranks seventh-highest in the NFL and third-highest in the conference. It was a balanced attack, though, that made a victory at home Sunday against the Eagles remarkably comfortable.
Despite a near comeback fueled by Donovan McNabb’s 450 passing yards, a productive running game with LaDainian Tomlinson, who contributed a solid if not spectacular 96 yards on the ground, allowed the Chargers to maintain their lead throughout the game.
Tomlinson also scored twice on had a long run of 20 yard and had a modest five-yard gain from the wildcat formation.
In a victory over the Raiders in early November, LT scored from six yards out on a direct snap and this past Sunday, Legedu Naanee also spent some time in the wildcat.
Naanee is specifically suited to the formation with his collegiate years at Boise State as a quarterback, though he spent far more time catching the ball than throwing or running.
Vincent Jackson hauled in one touchdown pass against the Broncos last month and leads the team with seven scores this season.
The Eagles double-teamed the 6-foot-5 target and Denver will not be able to ignore Jackson, but that provides Rivers with open looks to Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Naanee. All three caught passes Sunday with Naanee getting his first career regular season TD.
Special teams play could determine the game's outcome.
In the teams' previous meeting, Eddie Royal scored on a 93-yard kickoff return and on a 71-yard run to the end zone on a punt return. Darren Sproles responded with 77-yard punt return for a touchdown return of his own.
Titles are not won in November, but Sunday’s victor will solidify their chances of a postseason run in January.
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