Monday Night Football

Monday Night Football

Game Preview for Broncos vs Chargers

(Sports Network) - Visions of their 10th win will be dancing in the heads of the San Diego Chargers on Monday night, when Norv Turner's club hosts the division rival Denver Broncos in a Christmas Eve showdown.

San Diego has been one of the league's hottest teams over the past month, winning four straight games, including last Sunday's 51-14 demolition of the Detroit Lions. The blowout, coupled with a loss by the Broncos to Houston on Thursday night, gave the Chargers their second consecutive AFC West title and also put the Bolts on the inside track for the all-important No. 3 seed in the playoffs.

In the event of a First-Round win, the team with the No. 3 seed would avoid the top-seeded New England Patriots until the AFC Championship round, and would instead play No. 2 Indianapolis in the climate-controlled RCA Dome.

The Chargers enter Monday's contest a half-game behind Pittsburgh for the third spot in the conference, but would reclaim the No. 3 seed with a win thanks to a superior AFC record to that of the Steelers.

What's more, San Diego will have swept a home-and-home against Denver for the second straight year, which would mark the franchise's first back-to-back sweeps of their longtime AFC West cohort since 1967-68.

The Broncos will be trying to avoid that historic indignity, and will also be vying to exact revenge for a 41-3 loss to the Chargers at Invesco Field at Mile High back on Oct. 7.

The loss was Denver's worst since losing to New Orleans by a 42-0 count in 1988, and was the worst home loss for the franchise since falling 56-10 to the Chiefs in 1966.

The Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention with last week's 31-13 defeat in Houston, and are one setback away from just their second losing season since Mike Shanahan took over head coaching duties in 1995.

SERIES HISTORY

The Broncos lead the all-time series with San Diego, 52-42-1, but have lost three in a row in the series. As mentioned, the Chargers were 41-3 winners at Invesco Field at Mile High in Week 5, and swept last season's home-and-home with their AFC West rival. The Bolts destroyed the Broncos by a 48-20 margin at Qualcomm Stadium in Week 14 of last year. Denver, which as noted has not been swept by San Diego in back-to-back seasons since 1967-68, had won 14 of the previous 18 meetings over the Bolts prior to 2006. The Broncos last won in San Diego in 2005.

Shanahan is 19-9 in his career against San Diego, including a 3-0 mark while head coach of Oakland in 1988-89. The Chargers' Turner is 2-5 against both Shanahan and the Broncos, with two of the losses dating to his tenure with Washington (1994-2000) and three coming while he was with Oakland (2004-05).

WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL

The once-vaunted Denver running game has been a major disappointment this season, with injuries on the offensive line and in the backfield, as well as the off-the-field saga of Travis Henry (680 rushing yards, 4 TD) helping contribute to a sub-standard rank of eighth in NFL rushing offense (124.1 yards per game) with a scant 10 ground touchdowns. Barring a major outburst from Henry or Selvin Young (603 rushing yards, 1 TD, 30 receptions) over the final two games, Denver will not have a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2001. The passing game has also been inconsistent, though the connection between quarterback Jay Cutler (3096 passing yards, 18 TD, 12 INT) and wideout Brandon Marshall (86 receptions, 6 TD) has been a strong one all season. Marshall has 21 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games combined. Tight end Tony Scheffler (40 receptions, 4 TD) has also emerged as a force in the passing game, and will have to help make up for the likely absence of wideout Brandon Stokley (40 receptions, 5 TD), who could miss the rest of the year with a knee problem. The Denver line allowed five sacks of Cutler in Houston last week, and must do a better job in pass protection.

The Broncos will look to avoid the major mistake against San Diego, which is easier said than done when facing a team that leads the NFL in interceptions (27), takeaways (41), and is tied with New England for the league lead in turnover margin (+19). Pro Bowl-bound cornerback Antonio Cromartie (33 tackles) set a franchise record with his NFL-best 10th interception of the year last week, one of five picks the Chargers had off of the Lions' Jon Kitna. Denver could catch something of a break if linebacker Shawne Merriman (knee) and defensive end Luis Castillo (ankle), both of whom are regarded as highly questionable, are forced to miss another game. San Diego did not have a sack of Kitna last week, though Shaun Phillips (61 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 INT), the club's best pass rusher in the absence of Merriman, did have an interception. The run-stopping corps led by Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams (39 tackles) and inside linebackers Stephen Cooper (92 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and Matt Wilhelm (82 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack), was not tested much by a Lions team that ran the football only nine times in Week 15. Cooper and Wilhelm both had INTs in the game, however. The Chargers are 16th in the league against the run (107 yards per game).

WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL

Given the way they ran the football last week, the way Denver has stopped the run this year, and the limitations of injury-hobbled quarterback Philip Rivers, you can expect San Diego to offer the Broncos a heavy dose of LaDainian Tomlinson (1311 rushing yards, 57 receptions, 16 TD) on Monday. Tomlinson, who carried 15 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns before exiting early in the blowout of Detroit, is well within range of becoming the NFL's first back-to-back rushing champion since Edgerrin James in 1999-2000. Tomlinson's backup, Michael Turner (263 rushing yards, 1 TD), also left the Lions contest prematurely due to a shoulder injury, and is considered questionable. If he can't go, the change-of-pace back will again be Darren Sproles (127 rushing yards, 2 TD), who rushed 25 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns in his finest day as a pro last Sunday. Rivers (2828 passing yards, 18 TD, 15 INT) is attempting to play through a sprained knee ligament, and when he drops back will look to top targets Antonio Gates (68 receptions, 9 TD), Chris Chambers (28 receptions, 2 TD), and Vincent Jackson (35 receptions, 3 TD). Chambers had four catches for a team-best 69 yards against the Lions. San Diego is seventh in the league in rushing offense (126.6 yards per game), and 22nd in passing (191.8 yards per game).

Stopping the run has been the Broncos' Achilles heel all season long, and Denver won't be long for this contest if they defend the ground game as poorly as they did against San Diego in Week 5. In that game, four Chargers running backs carried for a combined 219 yards on 33 carries (6.6 yards per attempt), including 147 and a touchdown on just 10 totes for Turner. An ever-rotating interior line is likely to include Josh Mallard (9 tackles, 1 sack) and Alvin McKinley (13 tackles, 2 sacks) this week, with linebackers D.J. Williams (121 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Nate Webster (80 tackles), and Ian Gold (72 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) attempting to make plays behind them. The Broncos secondary remains a strength, with cornerbacks Champ Bailey (70 tackles, 3 INT) and Dre' Bly (41 tackles, 5 INT, 1 sack) along with safeties John Lynch (45 tackles, 1 sack) and Hamza Abdullah (44 tackles) all ranking as capable talents. Bly had the team's only interception of Texans QB Sage Rosenfels last Thursday. Second-year-end Elvis Dumervil (34 tackles, 11 sacks, 1 INT) has been the club's only consistent pass rusher this year. The Broncos rank 29th in the NFL against the run (140.2 yards per game), and sixth against the pass (196.2 yards per game).

FANTASY FOCUS

After being regarded by some as a disappointment given his No. 1 overall status in many fantasy leagues, Tomlinson has perhaps been the most consistent point producer in the NFL over the past month or so. He remains a must-start, as does tight end Gates and the ball-hawking San Diego secondary. Probably best to sit Rivers and Chambers against a Denver defense that defends the pass pretty well.

For the Broncos, Marshall has become a No. 1 fantasy receiver, Cutler an above-average quarterback option, and Scheffler a decent tight end choice. More risky are Denver running backs Henry and Young, since it's hard to tell how much or how well either will be running from week to week.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Chargers have won four straight including a 37-point romp last week, and also destroyed the Broncos the first time these teams met this year. Needless to say, San Diego has Denver's undivided attention. The Broncos might not be playing for the postseason at this point, but it would be unlike a Shanahan- coached team to simply quit with two games to play, or lay down versus an AFC West rival. Inasmuch, you're likely to see Denver's "A" game on Monday night. The Chargers are more talented and will get enough of a lift from the home crowd in order to flex their muscles and pull out a late win, but it will be far from easy for San Diego.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 28, Broncos 22

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Charged-up San Diego hitting stride at right time

San Diego has locked up the AFC West, but needs to improve plenty if it hopes to knock off the Colts or Pats in the playoffs. They get to fine-tune this week against visiting Denver, a team whose run defense will offer token resistance to the Charger ground attack. San Diego has won and covered four in a row heading to the Christmas Eve Monday Nighter.

Oddsmakers currently have the Chargers listed as 9-point favorites versus the Broncos, while the game's total is sitting at 47.

The Broncos were defeated 31-13 by the Texans last time out, as 2.5-point favorites on the road. The combined score fell UNDER the posted total of 47.5.

Jay Cutler completed 27-of-39 pass attempts for 254 yards and a touchdown in the loss.

The Chargers defeated Detroit 51-14 as a 9.5-point favorite in Week 15. The combined score went OVER the posted over/under total (46).

Darren Sproles rushed for 122 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns for San Diego, while LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 116 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns in the win.

Current streak:
San Diego has won 4 straight games.

Team records:
Denver: 6-8 SU, 4-10 ATS
San Diego: 9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS

Denver most recently:
When playing in December are 5-5
When playing on grass are 4-6
After being outgained are 4-6
When playing within the division are 5-5

San Diego most recently:
When playing in December are 8-2
When playing on grass are 8-2
After outgaining opponent are 9-1
When playing within the division are 8-2

A few trends to consider:
The total has gone OVER in 6 of Denver's last 7 games
The total has gone OVER in 5 of Denver's last 6 games on the road
Denver is 14-7 SU in its last 21 games when playing San Diego
The total has gone UNDER in 15 of Denver's last 23 games when playing on the road against San Diego
San Diego is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games at home
San Diego is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games at home
San Diego is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games
San Diego is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games

Next up:
Denver home to Minnesota, Sunday, December 30
San Diego at Oakland, Sunday, December 30

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Merriman expects to play when Chargers host Broncos
December 22, 2007

SAN DIEGO (AP) -Linebacker Shawne Merriman continued his progress Saturday and appears set to start Monday night when the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers host the Denver Broncos.

``I did pretty much everything and I've been doing pretty much everything the whole week, Merriman said after practice. ``I feel good, I'm moving around good and I'm expecting to play.''

Merriman sat out last week's win over the Lions to rest his sprained left knee.

Merriman said he was out of sorts watching instead of playing.

``It drove me nuts,'' said Merriman, who was recently named to his third Pro Bowl.

``I didn't know what to do. But hopefully I won't be sitting this week because I've been practicing all week.''

Merriman's one concession to his injury will be a knee brace.

``Sometimes it hampers my change of direct and it prevents me from doing certain things,'' said Merriman, who has a team-high 11 1/2 sacks. ``But I'll be good.''

Defensive end Luis Castillo (ankle) is also trying to get back on the field. He's been out since early November and has been shooting for Monday night for his return.

``I honestly have no idea,'' Castillo said about suiting up.

Coach Norv Turner said Castillo and running back Michael Turner (shoulder) will likely be game-day decisions. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams (ankle) was added to the injury report on Saturday and is listed as questionable.

Quarterback Philip Rivers (knee) remains on track to start, although like Merriman, he will likely wear a protective brace.

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Monday Night Finale
By Josh Jacobs

The gifts are under the tree, the eggnog is flowing like a stream through the mountains and the bickering of family members can be heard throughout the house. But drowning out all of Christmas Eve’s sights, smells and sounds will be the last Monday Night NFL game of the year.

In an AFC West rivalry showdown, San Diego and Denver will meet for the only professionally played game of the day. Game time is set to begin at 8:00 p.m. EST, with most books installing the Chargers as 8½-point favorites. With one of the highest totals on the board set for Week 16 games, Bodog.com has listed this contest at 47.

There’s no question that San Diego’s star running back LaDainian Tomlinson has been a major catalysis in the team’s four straight game victory climb beginning on Nov. 25. When Tomlinson has toppled the century mark in the rushing department, the Chargers have gone 3-1 SU and ATS.

The biggest concern will be questions surrounding San Diego’s signal caller Philip Rivers. With numbers well below his break out season in 2006, Rivers has made too many mistakes throwing into traffic. His 18 total interceptions (eight since the bye week of Week 7) are a poor example of flawed decision making with the pigskin.

Betting trend wise, the ‘Bolts are 2-3 SU and ATS when Rivers throws two or more errand passes which result in turnovers.

Denver may be dead in the water for a playoff spot but QB Jay Cutler has a lot to prove against a San Diego team that has played much improved ‘D’ in its last four. Holding teams to 13.8 PPG (during the win streak) compared to 20.9 PPG in their first 10 battles, the Chargers have thrived in the secondary. Led by cornerback Antonio Cromartie (10 INTs), San Diego has taken some huge chances against the pass. Heading into Monday night, the ‘Super Chargers’ lead the league with 27 takeaways through the air.

Adhering back to the QB topic, Bronco’s slinger Cutler has proven that he can get the ball downfield, while moving the chains. In five games this season Cutler has eclipsed the 250-yard passing mark, while totaling 3,096 yards with 18 scores.

Having faced San Diego once already this season, Denver went down in a hail of bullets. Losing by the score of 41-3, Cutler struggled for 232 yards through the air with one pick. Even Tomlinson was stonewalled for 67 rushing yards on 21 carries.

Hailed by many before the season began, Denver’s defense looked great on paper. But giving up a passing rating of 87.6 (23rd worst in the NFL) and unable to penetrate opponents offensive lines with much impact, the Broncos have been stale at protecting field position. Stripping away 18 fumbles is about the only category of stats that this team from Colorado has thrived in.

Individually speaking, Denver’s linebacker D.J. Williams has recorded a team and career high of 121 total tackles in 2007.

Since November of 2006, San Diego has dominated the head-to-head matchup with a 3-0 SU and ATS record, outscoring the Broncos 124-50! If the total score didn’t give it away, the ‘over’ hit all three times in those three contests.

For the Chargers, two more wins to finish the season off will be necessary if this squad wants the No. 3 spot and a pass to play New England until the Conference Championship.

One game plan that you can bet Denver will look to exploit will be with the rushing game. Between RBs Travis Henry and Selvin Young, the Broncos have totaled 1,283 yards, but have only crossed the goal line five times. Look for the duo to exploit a Chargers' team giving up 4.1 rushing YPG for a total of 1,498 yards on the season.   

Just to be clear; San Diego is 6-1 SU and ATS at home this season so Denver will definitely have its work cut out.

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What bettors need to know: Broncos at Chargers
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All to play for

At first glance, there’s not much on the line in this week’s Monday nighter. Denver is out of the playoffs while the Chargers have already clinched the division. But both teams insist they still have unfinished business.

The Broncos are seeking revenge for an embarrassing loss earlier this season. The Chargers came to Denver in October and recorded a 41-3 victory, which had Invesco Field almost empty by the fourth quarter.

“This is the NFL and some people think it’s above pride and issues like that, but it’s not,” safety John Lynch told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “That was humiliating and embarrassing.”

The Chargers secured their fourth straight AFC West title with last weekend’s 51-14 blowout win over Detroit, but they still need a victory Monday to secure the No. 3 seed for the playoffs.

That would ensure that if they win their opening game of the postseason, they would avoid having to go to New England for the second game. Instead, the No. 3 seeding would see San Diego face Indianapolis in the climate-controlled RCA Dome.

“There are a lot of different scenarios, so I'm not going to be caught up in that,” Chargers coach Norv Turner told the San Diego Union Tribune. “We want to go win our next two football games.”

Merriman ready

Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman claims he will feature in Monday night’s game after missing last weekend’s win over Detroit with a sprained left knee.

"I've been doing pretty much everything the whole week," Merriman told reporters after Saturday’s practice. "I feel good, I'm moving around good and I'm expecting to play."

Merriman has been pestering medical staff and his coach all week to let him play, saying he couldn’t stand being on the sidelines last weekend.

"It drove me nuts," he said of missing out. "I didn't know what to do. But hopefully I won't be sitting this week because I've been practicing all week."

So the deal is that he wears a brace on the knee in order to get some playing time.

"Sometimes it hampers my change of direction and it prevents me from doing certain things," he said of the brace. "But I'll be good."

Merriman is not the Chargers’ only injury worry this week. Defensive end Luis Castillo (ankle) and running back Michael Turner (shoulder) will be game-day decisions, while defensive tackle Jamal Williams (ankle) is listed as questionable.

Tomlinson turns it around

San Diego lost three of its first four games when LaDainian Tomlinson made a slow start to the season. As soon as his form improved, the Chargers started winning. They are now on a four-game streak.

"Sometimes you just have to let the course of a season play out," Tomlinson told The Associated Press. "At some point it has to happen. That's just how it is. For us not to be doing it, it's happening now.

“It's just coming at a later time, you know what I mean? And for us, it's great, because if we can be hot going into the playoffs, Whoa, Nellie! Whoa, Nellie!”

Tomlinson ran for a total of 130 yards and one touchdown in his first three games, two of which the Chargers lost. During the current streak he is averaging 129 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

He has 1,772 yards for the season and is battling Adrian Peterson and Willie Parker for the rushing title. Last season’s league MVP is now looking forward to getting it done in the playoffs.

"We'd like to say we're definitely a contender. We've got to prove it," Tomlinson told AP.

"When you get to the playoffs, it's totally different. You've got more pressure on you and also less room for error, and so you've really got to take advantage of your opportunities. When we get there, that's one thing we're going to talk about."

Head to head

The Chargers have won, and covered, in three straight games against Denver. They are also an impressive 7-1 ATS in their last eight games against AFC teams. The last three meetings have gone over the total.

San Diego is 9-5-0 ATS for the season, while the Broncos are 4-10-0. Six of the last seven Broncos games have gone over the total.

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Denver (6-8 SU, 4-10 ATS) at San Diego (9-5 SU and ATS)

The surging Chargers look to maintain their grip on the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoffs when they host the Broncos in a primetime Christmas Eve matchup at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

The Chargers turned their season around on Oct. 7 with a 41-3 dismantling of the Broncos in Denver, easily covering as one-point favorites. Since that game San Diego has won eight of 10 SU and ATS, including the last four in a row, and clinched the AFC West crown with last week’s 51-14 rout of the Lions as a 9½-point home chalk. The Chargers forced five turnovers and had a 276-26 yard edge in rushing, while the 51 points were the most for the team in 21 years.

Denver’s 31-13 loss to the Texans last week as a 2½-point road favorite eliminated the Broncos from any playoff contention. With that setback, Denver dropped to 1-3 SU and ATS in its last four overall and 1-5 SU and ATS in its last six on the highway.

San Diego has won the last three meetings with the Broncos (3-0 ATS), including a 48-20 home victory last year as a nine-point chalk. The Chargers, who have scored 35 points or more in each their three wins over Denver, hasn’t won four in a row in this rivarly since 1967-68.

The straight-up winner is 7-0-3 ATS in the last 10 head-to-head meetings. The winner has also covered the spread in every Chargers game this season.

The Broncos are just 2-9 ATS in their last 11 against teams with a winning record.

Chargers’ RB LaDainian Tomlinson has stepped up his production, averaging 129 rushing yards per game during the team’s four-game winning streak. In the last three games, San Diego is averaging 32.7 points and a whopping 204.3 rushing yards per contest. On the opposite end, the Chargers are allowing just 13.7 points per game and limiting the opposition to 81.7 rushing yards in the last three.

San Diego has dominated its division, going 16-5-3 ATS in its last 24 against AFC West squads. Also, the Chargers are on further ATS runs of 7-1 ATS against the AFC, 15-3 as a home favorite of 3½ to 10 points and 11-5 at home against a team with a losing road mark.

The over is 11-3 in Broncos games this season, 5-1 in their last six on the road, 9-1 in their last 10 against AFC competition and 7-1 in their last eight December kickoffs. Also, the Chargers have topped the total in their last two home games, and the over is 3-0 in the last three series meetings between these rivals.

ATS ADVANTAGE: SAN DIEGO and OVER

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Monday Night Football Preview

LaDainian Tomlinson and the San Diego Chargers will be looking for their fifth straight victory when they take on the rival Denver Broncos in Monday's Christmas Eve contest.

The 9-5 Chargers, who are the runaway winners of the AFC West division, have reeled off consecutive wins over the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, and Detroit Lions. And while that's not exactly a murderer's row of opponents the streak has allowed the Chargers to seal up a postseason berth and start playoff preparations.

Tomlinson rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns in San Diego's 51-14 trouncing of the Lions last weekend. Backup running back Darren Sproles got a chunk of playing time in the easy win as well, and he made the most of it with 122 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Watch for LT to get some plays off on Monday night as well.

Philip Rivers went 14-of-21 for 142 yards passing against Detroit, with one touchdown strike and no interceptions. Brandon Manumaleuna had the TD catch, while Chris Chambers led the receiving corps with four catches for 69 yards on Sunday afternoon.

The Chargers had no trouble covering the 9.5-point spread against the Lions in that contest, which put their ATS record at 9-5 on the season as well. San Diego's output alone made last week's game an OVER result (the posted total was 46), and they're now 7-5-2 on the OVER/UNDER this season. As well, the Chargers are 6-1 against-the-spread at Qualcomm Stadium this year, and they're also 8-3 ATS as the favored team.

Denver fell to 6-8 on the season with a 31-13 road loss to the Houston Texans last Thursday night. Jay Cutler completed 27-of-39 pass attempts for 254 yards in that game, with one touchdown strike and no interceptions. Tony Scheffler caught seven passes for 100 yards and a score, and Brandon Marshall had 11 catches for 107 yards.

The Broncos couldn't get much going on the ground against the Texans, with Selvin Young and Travis Henry combining for just 61 yards rushing. Young fared the better of the two with 34 yards on eight carries, while Henry was held to 27 yards on 10 attempts.

Bettors have had a hard time making money off the Broncos this season, as their against-the-spread loss in Week 15 put them at just 4-10 ATS. The combined score of that game was an UNDER result, and Denver is 10-3-1 on the OVER/UNDER so far this year. As well the Broncos are 1-6 ATS on the road in '07, and 2-5 ATS as the underdog.

The oddsmakers have the Chargers pegged as 8.5-point home favorites in this matchup, with the total listed at 47 points. San Diego was favored on the road over Denver earlier this season, and they walked away with a 41-3 victory. The Chargers also knocked off the Broncos in both their meetings last season, getting two ATS wins.

Here are the official injury reports for both the Broncos and Chargers for Monday night:

Denver Injuries

Ian Gold LB Doubtful Week 16 (knee)
Daniel Graham TE Questionable Week 16 (ankle)
Brandon Stokley WR Questionable Week 16 (knee)
John Engelberger DE Probable Week 16 (shoulder)
Chris Myers C Probable Week 16 (ankle)
Javon Walker WR Probable Week 16 (knee)

San Diego Injuries

Lorenzo Neal RB Out Week 16 (fibula)
Luis Castillo DE Questionable Week 16 (ankle)
Shawne Merriman LB Questionable Week 16 (knee)
Michael Turner RB Questionable Week 16 (shoulder)
Philip Rivers QB Probable Week 16 (knee)

After playing in San Diego the Broncos will head home for their final game of the season against the Vikings. The Chargers will play in Oakland against the Raiders next Sunday.

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Broncos-Chargers Preview

The San Diego Chargers began to turn around their season with a big victory in Denver in the first week of October. A win over the Broncos this time will help them move closer to a more favorable seed in the playoffs.

Needing to win their final two games to secure the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoffs and the chance to avoid New England until the conference championship game, the Chargers go for their fifth straight victory when they host the Broncos on Monday night.

San Diego also played well to end last season, finishing on a 10-game winning streak to post a 14-2 mark and earn the top seed in the AFC. The Chargers, though, lost 24-21 at home to the Patriots in their playoff opener, and that disappointing result - which led to the firing of coach Marty Schottenheimer - seemed to affect them in the early part of this season.

They opened with three losses in four games under Norv Turner, but a 41-3 win at Denver on Oct. 7 started their turnaround. San Diego has won eight of 10, including a 51-14 rout of Detroit last week that gave the Chargers (9-5) their third AFC West title in the last four seasons.

"Sometimes you just have to let the course of a season play out," LaDainian Tomlinson said Monday. "At some point it has to happen. That's just how it is. For us not to be doing it, it's happening now. It's just coming at a later time, you know what I mean? And for us, it's great, because if we can be hot going into the playoffs, Whoa, Nellie! Whoa, Nellie!"

Earning the No. 3 seed could possibly give the Chargers an easier road in the playoffs. If they clinch that spot and win their postseason opener, they'd visit No. 2 seed Indianapolis, not top-seeded New England, for the divisional round.

"If you continue to win you get to play the No. 1 seed in the championship game, if things go the way you think they will go," Tomlinson said.

San Diego, which beat Indianapolis 23-21 on Nov. 11, lost 38-14 at New England in Week 2 this season.

"You're going to have to play them if they continue to win, so it doesn't matter if you play them the week before or in the championship game," Tomlinson said about the Patriots. "You've got to earn the right to play them if they continue to win."

Tomlinson was the league MVP last season when he had an NFL-record 31 touchdowns and 186 points, and won his first rushing title with 1,815 yards. Like the team, he started off slow this year, but he's carried the Chargers during their four-game win streak.

Tomlinson's averaging 129.0 rushing yards over that span, running for five TDS and catching one. He's battling Pittsburgh's Willie Parker and Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson for the rushing title.

"We'd like to say we're definitely a contender. We've got to prove it," said Tomlinson, who rushed for 116 yards and two TDs in the first two quarters last Sunday but sat out the second half with a tweaked hamstring as San Diego held a 34-7 lead at halftime.

"When you get to the playoffs, it's totally different. You've got more pressure on you and also less room for error, and so you've really got to take advantage of your opportunities. When we get there, that's one thing we're going to talk about."

Tomlinson, one of eight Chargers selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, said he did some running Monday and the hamstring is fine.

"I know what L.T. wants to do," Turner told the team's official Web site. "He wants to be at his best when we start playing in the postseason."

Denver, meanwhile, won't be participating in the playoffs.

The Broncos (6-8) were eliminated from postseason contention after they lost 31-13 at Houston last Thursday and San Diego and Cleveland both won Sunday.

"It is difficult, but that's life, too," safety John Lynch said. "You're not always on top. The old saying that adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it, we've talked a lot about that. I think you can see a lot about individuals and a team how they respond to it."

The Broncos went 9-7 in 2006 to miss the postseason for the first time in four years. They'll now watch the playoffs from home in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02.

Denver, though, still has something to play for. Not only do the Broncos want to show they can beat the Chargers following October's blowout, they're trying to avoid their first losing season since going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

"Your career is based on how you perform and if you don't perform, it'll show on tape and guys will know what type of heart you have," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who earned his eighth straight Pro Bowl nod Tuesday.

"We're aware of how (the Chargers) beat us and I know they're going to think that they could do it again. So, we've got to go out and play our game. We're capable of playing well. We've just got to do it."

The Broncos, however, have been inconsistent all season. They opened with consecutive victories before losing five of their next six, rebounded with a pair of wins to get back to .500, but have dropped three of four heading into this game.

"One week it's there; the next week it's not, and you've got to be consistent and do the little things well all the time," Lynch told the Broncos' official Web site. "You can't do them some of the time or else you get exposed in this league."

San Diego has won three straight over Denver for the first time since taking the teams' final meeting in 1981 and sweeping the season series in 1982. The Chargers haven't won four in a row over the Broncos since 1967-68.

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