ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In Week 6, San Diego and Denver squared off with first place in the AFC West on the line.
Going into that game, the Chargers were 3-2 and the Broncos were 2-3. The script has been flipped in the weeks since that matchup, as Denver has won its last three to take a 6-3 record into Sunday's battle with San Diego, a team sitting at 4-5 after winning just one game since that loss.
As was the case in San Diego, when Denver won 35-24, the outcome of Sunday's game will have a big impact on the standings. A Chargers victory would trim the Broncos' division lead to just one game, and the tiebreaker between the teams would be up in the air. Another Denver win, however, would give the home team a three-game lead that would essentially be four with the tiebreaker.
"Obviously we realize this is a division game and it would put us in a great situation if we won this game," safety Jim Leonhard said. "You don't need a whole lot of extra things going into a rival game, a division game, but knowing that we could set ourselves up nicely with a win, obviously, is a little extra motivation."
It makes for a pivotal rematch Sunday at 2:25 p.m. MST.
"It's a big game for us this week," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said. "Two games back. Dropping another loss this week – we're not going to be able to come back from it. It's a big game. Denver's playing amazing right now. All three phases are playing well off of each other and it shows on the tape."
Despite the Chargers' recent struggles, Denver is well aware of what San Diego is capable of at its best. Seeing the Chargers take a 24-point halftime lead the first time the teams met has a lot to do with that respect.
"This is a very, very good San Diego Chargers team coming here," Head Coach John Fox said. "They've won the last three times in our building, including last year while I was here. Our guys aren't taking it lightly. It's a huge divisional game. It's got huge implications moving forward. I'm sure we're going to get their best shot. We've got to make sure we bring ours."
The first meeting between the teams featured a dramatic halftime turnaround. The Broncos made history by exploding for 35 second-half points to come back from 24 points down in the type of win that will give San Diego plenty of motivation for the rematch
"It's a longtime rivalry," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "NFL players have a lot of pride. I know when a team that beats us the first time, a team that has beaten us, I know I'll want to get another shot at them and so we know they're going to be ready to play and it's important for us to play well, to improve, to be better than we were last week. There are some things that we need to improve on and this is a good week to make those improvements, we hope."
Another challenge that will come with facing an opponent for the second time is familiarity. Having already played Denver once, the Chargers have firsthand knowledge of what the Broncos do best and where they are vulnerable.
"It's going to be difficult," running back Willis McGahee said. "It's not going to be easy. They know we've been watching film. They know what our weaknesses are and what our strengths are, and they are going to attack the weaknesses. But we're professionals and our coaches have a great gameplan for us."
Since San Diego jumped out to that 24-point lead that threatened to drop the Broncos to 2-4, Denver has been in control for nearly the entirety of its last three and a half games. But the recent stretch of success hasn't erased the memory of what the Chargers were able to do to Denver for 30 minutes back in Week 6. Another piece of recent history that will help prevent the Broncos from looking past this Sunday is San Diego's three-game winning streak at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"That's what I remember," Fox said of the Chargers' dominant first half in Week 6. "They're a capable team. There are no cupcakes in this league. About the time you start thinking there are, you get whacked. I don't think anybody in that building in there thinks there's going to be anything easy about this game at all. It's a division game. Anything can happen in your division. They've won three in a row right on that field over there down the street."