The surprising 5-5 Denver Broncos will travel to San Diego to take on the plummeting 4-6 Chargers on Sunday in a game between teams in seemingly reversed roles.
After starting off the season red hot, the Chargers are mired in a downward spiral while the Broncos are surging.
After a slow start cost them a playoff berth last season, the Chargers were determined not to let it happen again in 2011.
It seemed as though the Bolts would cruise to an AFC West title after a 4-1 start, but they have since lost five consecutive games and have very little margin for error.
In much the opposite way, the Broncos started 1-4, but they have won four of their past five games thanks in part to the play of quarterback Tim Tebow.
Tebow took over the starting job from a ineffective Kyle Orton over a month ago and has gotten the job done with his unorthodox style.
Both teams trail the Oakland Raiders in the division, so this promises to be a huge swing game. The Broncos and Chargers each desperately want to win this game, but ultimately only one will come out on top in what is sure to be a hard-fought battle.
Where: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
When: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 4:15 p.m. EDT
Watch: CBS; CBS4 (Denver) and CBS8 (San Diego)
Listen: KOA 850AM (Denver) and KIOZ 105.3FM (San Diego); Sirius XM Satellite Radio: XM Internet 870 (Denver) and XM 225 (Internet 886, San Diego)
Betting Line: San Diego (-7)
What's at Stake?
This game is sure to have major implications with regards to the AFC West race. Should Denver win, then it will keep pace with the 6-4 Raiders and perhaps even tie them if they fall to the Chicago Bears.
At this point, every game is huge for the Chargers, particularly divisional matchups. They can maybe afford one more loss at the most this season, and need to get on the winning track in order to keep pace with Oakland and Denver.
Not only would a San Diego win knock the Broncos down a notch, but it would also reverse the Chargers' fortunes a bit. The Bolts can be a very dangerous team, but they absolutely need a positive result in order to remain a threat at this point.
Broncos Injury Report
Questionable: TE Daniel Fells (concussion), TE Julius Thomas (ankle)
Chargers Injury Report
Out: DL Luis Castillo (leg)
Questionable: WR Malcom Floyd (hip), LB Shaun Phillips (foot), DB Marcus Gilchrist (hamstring)
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit 'Em and Sleeper
Start 'Em: QB Philip Rivers (SD)—Denver's defense has been much better as a whole recently, but the last time the Broncos faced an elite quarterback, Detroit's Matthew Stafford tore them to shreds.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has struggled mightily with turnovers this season, but the team needs a big effort from him and I think he'll supply it.
Sit 'Em: WR Eric Decker (DEN)—Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker may lead the team in receiving touchdowns with seven, but there simply isn't much room for a big game in the current offense.
He caught a long touchdown pass from Tebow a couple weeks ago, but San Diego's eighth-ranked pass defense should be good enough to bottle him up.
Sleeper: QB Tim Tebow (DEN)—As terrible as he tends to look at times, Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been a reliable source of fantasy points as a starter.
He isn't going to pass for much more than 100 yards, but he is a virtual lock for 60-plus rushing yards and one or two touchdowns, making him a decent option for those thin at quarterback.
What They're Saying
Despite his 4-1 record as a starter this season, many still aren't sold on Tebow. That includes Broncos executive vice president and legendary quarterback John Elway, who has yet to anoint Tebow as the team's long-term option under center, according to Lindsay H. Jones of the Denver Post:
"I think obviously he's making progress week in and week out," Elway said of Tebow. "When you look at our third-down numbers, those have to improve. I mean, that's the bottom line. We can't go 3-for-13 and win a world championship. Those are the type of things we have to keep improving.
"We'll continue to work on being able to get more balance on the offensive side, and try to take some of the pressure off the running game and execute in the third-down area, because we have to get better there," Elway said on his radio show.
Broncos Player to Watch: QB Tim Tebow
Whether it's fair or not, the quarterback gets most of the credit and criticism depending upon how things are going. Considering the fact the Broncos are playing well right now, Tebow has been viewed as the reason for their turnaround.
A lot of it has to do with the defense and the running game as well, but Tebow is certainly a factor. If he can get his completion percentage over 50 percent and continue to run the option successfully, then he and the Broncos have a legitimate shot at upsetting the Chargers.
Chargers Player to Watch: WR Vincent Jackson
After a rough week against the Oakland Raiders, the Chargers wide receiver came up big against the Chicago Bears with seven grabs for 165 yards and a touchdown. It ultimately wasn't enough to get the Chargers a win as the defense couldn't stop Chicago, but he was dangerous all game long.
Jackson will need to have another huge game against Denver as San Diego figures to do the bulk of its damage through the air.
With both Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates hampered by injuries all year, Jackson is the one mainstay in terms of receivers, so Rivers is sure to look for him early and often.
Key Matchup: WR Vincent Jackson vs. CB Champ Bailey
Denver Broncos defensive back Champ Bailey used to be the league's best corner, bar none. While that is no longer the case due to his advancing age, he can still go and make life miserable on opposing receivers.
He figures to draw the very difficult assignment of covering Jackson. Bailey will probably get some help against the 6'5" Chargers wideout, but slowing him down will largely be Bailey's responsibility,
If he allows Jackson to go off like he did last week, then the Broncos will have a tough time winning on Sunday.
On the Hot Seat: Chargers' Norv Turner
I don't think the Chargers are going to make an in-season coaching change, but coach Norv Turner is very much on the hot seat.
Not only has he failed to reach the Super Bowl despite numerous playoff appearances, but he is very much in danger of missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
A win over Denver will keep the Chargers in the AFC West hunt, but a loss would all but end their playoff hopes.
It is still possible that they could make the postseason with a 9-7 record, but the odds go down considerably with each loss. If San Diego manages to miss the playoffs again this season, then it is probably curtains for Turner during the offseason.
Chargers 24, Broncos 17