Running back Ronnie Hillman #23 of the Denver Broncos rushes against the Cincinnati Bengals(Photo: Getty Images)
The Broncos and AFC West foe San Diego play their final regular-season game at 2:25 p.m. Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. If the Broncos win they will be assured of no worse than a No. 2 playoff seed, which comes with a first-round bye and second-round home game. If Broncos lose and Kansas City wins, Denver would have to play in the first round on the road.
Here are 9 keys for the Broncos in their game against the Chargers:
1. No scoreboard watching
The Broncos have lost this kind of game before. You know, much to gain in the final week, playing an inferior opponent, only to come out flat.
New England plays Miami in the early game Sunday. A Patriot loss would give the Broncos the No. 1 playoff seed with a win against San Diego. A Patriot win would give the Broncos a No. 2 seed with a win against San Diego.
May neither Patriot result affect how the Broncos play against San Diego.
The other meaningful game for the Broncos is Kansas City-Oakland. A Kansas City win would mean the Broncos would have to beat San Diego in order to win the AFC West. That game kicks off in Kansas City at the same time as the Broncos-Chargers' contest. Scoreboard watching can tighten collars.
2. Pay no attention, Brock, to the legend who is no longer behind the curtain
For the first time, Brock Osweiler is the Broncos' starting quarterback while Peyton Manning is healthy enough to dress and serve as a backup. Osweiler has to stay within his game and not put too much pressure on himself.
3. Test the Chargers' battered secondary. Repeatedly
In the Chargers' previous game – last Thursday at Oakland – they lost so many defensive backs to injury, receiver Dontrelle Inman was forced to play safety. Inman's missed tackle in overtime allowed the Raiders to move into game-winning field goal range. A couple deep throws early by Osweiler would force the Chargers' secondary to back off.
4.Get the Chargers plane warmed up
A fast start should break the spirit against some Chargers players (not named Philip Rivers or Danny Woodhead) who already know with their 4-11 record their offseason starts Monday. That "Win One for San Diego" spirit shouldn't be all that strong with the game in Denver.
5. Shut Philip, up
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has averaged 311.6 passing yards against his 14 non-Broncos opponents this year. He threw for just 202 against Denver in a 17-3 loss last month in San Diego. That means Rivers is due to rebound unless Von Miller and company can again sack him four times. The Chargers' offensive line is as beat up as their secondary.
6. Shadow Danny Woodhead
Two guys who played extremely hard in the Chargers' previous game 10 days ago at Oakland: Rivers and Woodhead. The diminutive running back Woodhead was a fourth quarter force both as a safety valve receiver and rusher. He's hard to find so he won't be easy to contain.
7. Sleep and stretch
For their 16th and final game, the Broncos are battered and bruised from only having six days between games. Hopefully, the players took care of themselves this week.
8. Pass first, then run
After loosening up the Chargers' secondary, the Broncos can apply some rushing blows to San Diego's 23rd-rank run defense that allows 119.7 yards per game. If Osweiler has success early, the Broncos should be able to rush for 120 and keep the ball away from Rivers.
9. Get to point where Peyton mops up
Imagine if the Broncos got up 30-0 late in the third quarter. Osweiler is the quarterback for the playoffs. Don't want him getting hurt. At that point, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak would have to ask Manning if he wants to go in. Manning would have to swallow some pride, but he's swallowed hard already. He'll do it.
This scenario, however is not likely to happen for two reasons: Charger players had 10 days between games; the Broncos only six. This is going to be a game where the Broncos have to figure out how to win when they're not at their best.
(© 2016 KUSA)