Hostile Territory

The last time San Diego and Denver met, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers bothered the Broncos with more than just his play on the field.

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These teams will face off for the first time Sunday since a chippy game between the AFC West rivals last Christmas Eve.

Oddsmakers from have made San Diego -1.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 44% of bets for this game have been placed on San Diego -1.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

In what appeared to be a meaningless game with the San Diego Chargers on their way to clinching the No. 3 AFC playoff seed and the Denver Broncos moving closer to their first sub-.500 season since 1999, San Diego won 23-3 at home in a heated contest on Dec. 24.

The animosity started early in the first quarter following a collision between former Broncos safety John Lynch and Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson after a 2-yard run. Tomlinson's helmet came off and Lynch took it with both hands and threw it about 10 yards, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Then, with the game out of reach and Rivers already pulled in the fourth quarter, the Chargers' signal-caller ventured onto the field to yell at Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler following a failed fourth-down pass.

Two days after the game, Cutler brushed off the incident.

"We've talked about it. I'm not going to get into it," Cutler said. "It was an unfortunate situation. They talked a lot and the talk got heated between the two teams. Personally I don't think the teams like each other, which is fine. It's just going to add to it next year. It's going to be exciting."

On Monday, Rivers told the Chargers' official Web site that what happened last December is in the past.

"I'm not going to get into it through you guys, through the media, all week long," said Rivers, who has thrown seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions while winning all four of his starts against the Broncos.

"I'm just not going to do it. I'm going to talk football about Denver and see what kind of team they are as I get to prepare for them and go play the game. Whatever happened to me is gone. It's eight months ago and I'm going to move forward."

The Broncos have more than trash talk to worry about after being swept by the Chargers for the second straight year in 2007. San Diego also won 41-3 at Denver on Oct. 7.

The Chargers' focus is also elsewhere after learning star linebacker Shawne Merriman will undergo season-ending knee surgery. Merriman had an NFL-high 39 1/2 sacks over the past three seasons and played in three straight Pro Bowls.

"Shawne informed me he did not feel right and thought it best to shut it down," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said in a statement Tuesday. "The road to winning the AFC West just got more difficult, but not impossible. Nothing is impossible. Shawne is a great player and an inspirational leader. He will be missed."

Merriman had no sacks and only two tackles in San Diego's shocking 26-24 home loss to Carolina in its season opener last Sunday. The Chargers rallied from a nine-point deficit to take a 24-19 lead with 2:27 to play, but lost when Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dante Rosario as time expired.

The Chargers had lost only one of their previous 16 regular-season home games.

Denver opened its season on a happier note, winning 41-14 in Oakland on Monday night behind Cutler and rookie wide receiver Eddie Royal. Cutler threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, while Royal caught nine passes for 146 yards and a TD.

With Brandon Marshall serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct code, Royal - a second-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech - was featured in the offense and had the best performance by a Broncos rookie receiver since Rick Upchurch's 153-yard performance against Kansas City in 1975.

"This just opens up a lot of possibilities for us," Cutler said. "We anticipated B-Marsh getting a lot of double coverage up top, and now you can't, because Eddie is on the other side. I've had a good feel for Eddie, and I've been throwing it his way more and more."

San Diego has won two straight in Denver for the first time since 1967-68. The Chargers have never won three in a row on the road against the Broncos, who have won their last eight home openers.

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