ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos (6-3) will look for their first season sweep of the San Diego Chargers (4-5) since 2005 as they host their AFC West counterpart at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Kickoff for the game is set for 2:25 p.m. MST. Below is a preview of the game, including important matchups on each side of the ball, a key to victory for Denver and some noteworthy facts to keep in mind.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL: Last week's performance against Carolina was a hiccup in a hot streak for the Denver offense. It struggled to maintain drives, going three-of-13 on third downs. Still, the unit ranks fourth in the NFL in third-down efficiency and has also been able to finish possessions with touchdowns, ranking second in red zone touchdown percentage.
Against San Diego, the offense will look to straighten out the issues it had in Charlotte against a San Diego defense that has earned the respect of quarterback Peyton Manning.
"These guys are flying around," Manning said. "I really see the unit as a whole. I think they play well together. They feed off of each other. You see them communicating. They're well-coached. You don't see guys busting assignments, by (receivers) running wide open. That's why it's a challenge against these guys."
Manning also complimented a savvy secondary in which each starting corner and safety has at least six years of experience, led by safety Eric Weddle, who tied for the league lead last year with seven interceptions.
"Don't give up big play and make the offense earn everything they get," Weddle said of the San Diego defense's plan. "Peyton's on a roll right now with that offense so we've got our hands full. We're excited. We like to match up and just keep everything in front of us is the biggest thing."
With the Chargers secondary looking to keep Denver's skill players from finding the open field, its primary focus will likely rest on wideout Demaryius Thomas. The third-year receiver leads the NFL with 14 receptions of more than 25 yards.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL: While the Denver offense struggled on third downs last week, the Denver defense was perfect in that area, keeping the Panthers from picking up a single first down on 12 third-down opportunities.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio credits his players' consistent tackling for limiting opponents to a league-best 4.7 yards per play in 2012.
"We've been a pretty sure-tackling defense thus far," Del Rio said. "That's the only way you can be any good on defense, so it's a must. It's something we work on. We work on it every week. It's going to continue to be important."
Del Rio said the defense will continue to emphasize the importance of wrapping up, while another point of emphasis in preparing for Sunday's game is Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
In the first matchup between Denver and San Diego back in Week 6, Gates had his best game of the season, catching six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns. All three numbers remain season-highs for the tight end.
"He's one of their primary weapons and we'll do our best," Del Rio said. "We had every intention of slowing him down in the first game and he got loose a couple times and did some damage. It'll be important that we limit that - limit his effectiveness, kind of put a lid on things. He's a heck of a player."
Just as Gates has been a staple of the San Diego offense - and a constant challenge to opposing defenses - for nearly a decade, so has quarterback Philip Rivers.
Denver's defensive players spoke all week about the respect they have for Rivers, his competitiveness and his leadership.
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil has recorded three multi-sack games against Rivers, and in Week 6 he forced a pair of Rivers fumbles that helped fuel the comeback. But the seventh-year pro recalls a time when the Rivers-led Chargers had a stranglehold on the division.
"Philip Rivers is a fired-up type of leader," Dumervil said. "He is a fierce competitor and you know you have to bring your 'A' game, and that's what I try to do. There's been a time, when I first came in; he was pretty dominating in this conference. I know what he is capable of."
KEY TO THE GAME: Rattle Rivers
Pressure on Rivers, combined with a few poor decisions on the quarterback's end, allowed the Broncos to come roaring back in the second half of Week 6 with 35 straight points.
Rivers has been highly accurate as of late, completing 47-of-57 passes in his last two games. Still, turnovers continue to bug the ninth-year pro, as a pair of late-game interceptions last week cost San Diego a win in Tampa.
In the Week 6 comeback, Dumervil forced both of Rivers' fumbles. The defensive end is listed as questionable for Sunday, so the rest of the defensive line will have to be ready to step up if he doesn't suit up.
SERIES HISTORY: Denver looks to turn the tables in the AFC West
The Broncos-Chargers rivalry dates back to 1960, when the Los Angeles Chargers defeated the Denver Broncos 23-19 in their first ever matchup.
More than five decades and 105 games later, the Broncos lead the all-time regular-season series by a count of 56-48-1, including a 35-16-1 mark at home.
But recently, the Broncos haven't had as much success when hosting San Diego. The Chargers have won the last three games in Denver and four of the last five. When the two teams met at Sports Authority Field at Mile High last season, San Diego left with a 29-24 victory.
With a win on Sunday, Denver will complete a season-sweep of the Chargers for the first time since 2005. It would be a huge step towards locking up the AFC West, as the Broncos would hold a three-game lead over San Diego in addition to the tiebreaker.
Denver aims to win the AFC West for the second consecutive year after San Diego had taken the division title in five of the previous seven years.
- The Broncos rank in the top three in the NFL in three major offensive categories: yards per game (395.1, 3rd), yards per play (6.1, 2nd) and points per game (30.1, 2nd).
- The Chargers rank third in the league in time of possession, holding the ball for 32:27 per game. The Broncos rank below the league average at 29:13.
- Both teams rank in the top five in third-down percentage and are nearly identical in that statistic. Denver converts on 44.3 percent (4th) of its third downs, while San Diego converts on 44.2 percent (5th) of its third downs.
- Denver scores a touchdown on 69 percent (2nd) of its trips to the red zone, while San Diego scores a touchdown on 51.5 percent of its trips to the red zone (17th).
- Both teams are very close in a couple of defensive stats. Denver allows its opponents to gain an average of 316.8 yards per game (6th), while San Diego surrenders 317 yards per game (7th).
- The Broncos give up an average of 21 points per game (10th) and the Chargers give up an average of 21.2 points per game (11th).
- Cornerback Champ Bailey needs one interception to tie Tyrone Braxton (34) for the fourth-most in franchise history.
- Wide receiver Eric Decker is on the brink of several accomplishments. With 98 career receptions, he is two shy of becoming the 37th Bronco to reach the 100-catch mark.
- Another 14 receiving yards will match the third-year receiver's career high of 612 set in 2011. If he catches a touchdown pass, it will be his eighth of the season, which would also tie a career high and make him the third player in team history with at least eight touchdown catches in back-to-back seasons.
- Quarterback Peyton Manning tied Dan Marino last week in touchdown passes and victories by a starting quarterback. With a touchdown pass against San Diego, he will pass Marino and move into second behind only Brett Favre in NFL history, with 421 career touchdown tosses.
- If the Broncos get the win, Manning will move into a tie with John Elway with 148 victories, the second-most wins by a starting quarterback in league history.
- If he passes for 295 yards, he'll pass Marino for the second-most 3,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history (13).
- Linebacker Von Miller is a half-sack shy of the league lead, one sack shy of becoming the fourth player since 1982 with at least 11 sacks in each of his first two seasons, and two sacks shy of eclipsing his career high of 11.5 set as a rookie in 2011.
- Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas needs 109 receiving yards to post his first career 1,000-yard season and the 31st 1,000-yard receiving campaign in team history.
- With a win, Head Coach John Fox will move into second place for the most wins by any active coach (94).
Two Chargers, tight end Dante Rosario and wide receiver Eddie Royal, were with Denver in 2011.
Head Coach John Fox spent the 1992-93 seasons leading the secondary for San Diego.
Tight Ends Coach Clancy Barone spent two years 2007-08 in San Diego before coming to Denver.
The game will be televised on CBS, with Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Solomon Wilcots (color commentary) calling the game.
Locally, KOA Radio (850 AM) will feature Dave Logan (play-by-play) and Ed McCaffrey (color commentary) with Andy Lindahl reporting from the sidelines.