Chargers at Denver Broncos: Who has the edge?

CHARGERS (10-6) at BRONCOS (4-12)

When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday

Where: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver

TV/Radio: Ch. 2/98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish)

Line: Broncos by 3

Notable injury designations: Chargers: FB Zander Horvath (questionable, ankle). Broncos: T Calvin Anderson (out, ankle), WR Kendall Hinton (out, chest/foot), DT D.J. Jones (out, knee), OLB Jonathan Kongbo (questionable, illness), CB Damarri Mathis (questionable, concussion), TE Eric Saubert (questionable, knee), TE Eric Tomlinson (questionable, ankle), OL Billy Turner (questionable, back).

What’s at stake: The Chargers are the fifth-seeded team in the AFC playoffs, but they need to beat the Broncos or have the Cincinnati Bengals defeat the Baltimore Ravens in an earlier game Sunday in order to stay there. A victory would give the Chargers their most victories since they won 12 in the 2018 16-game season, which also was the last time they advanced to the playoffs. If the playoff picture is settled before they play and the Chargers don’t need to win to finish fifth, it’s likely that many of the starters might get some rest and many of the backups will play. Coach Brandon Staley said the Chargers would play to win and to sharpen up for the playoffs, however.

Who’s better: The Broncos have been a huge disappointment after acquiring quarterback Russell Wilson during the offseason. Expectations were high, but Wilson has underperformed after a stellar career with the Seattle Seahawks and after signing a five-year, $245-million contract extension with the Broncos. Denver has lost seven of its past eight games going into the regular-season finale and fired coach Nathaniel Hackett one day after a 51-14 loss to the Rams on Dec. 25 at SoFi Stadium. Jerry Rosburg was named interim coach for the final two games. The Broncos’ offense averages only 16 points and 316 yards per game. The Chargers average 22.7 points and 360 yards per game, by way of contrast.

Matchup to watch: Justin Herbert needs one touchdown pass to break a tie with Peyton Manning for the most games (44) with at least one touchdown pass by a quarterback in his first three seasons. He threw two TD passes, the 91st and 92nd of his career, during the Chargers’ 31-10 victory last Sunday over the Rams. Running back Austin Ekeler leads the NFL with 18 touchdowns, including 13 rushing. He can match or pass last season’s total of 20 touchdowns Sunday against a stingy Broncos defense that gives up 20.7 points and 318 yards per game. Much depends on how much Herbert and Ekeler play in a game that might not carry any weight if the Chargers’ playoff opponent is determined before kickoff.

Chargers win if: If they have to win to secure the fifth-seeded spot, then the Chargers are likely to go full speed ahead in order to win and tune up for the playoffs. If they’ve already clinched fifth, then it’s less imperative that they win and more likely the starters will get at least some rest. The Broncos have a good deal to play for, including jobs for next season for some of their players and coaches, and also a sense of pride heading into the offseason.

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Fantasy sleeper: Look for the Chargers to feed Ekeler the ball whenever they get inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line in an attempt to get him to 20 touchdowns for the second consecutive season. Even if Staley plays many of the backups, it’s likely Ekeler will get at least a few rushing attempts in the red zone. Scoring 20 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons would be quite an achievement for Ekeler, who leads the NFL with 38 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Prediction: The oddsmakers favor the Broncos, presumably because they believe Staley will rest many of his starters. That might be the case if the Chargers have the fifth-seeded spot locked up before the kickoff. Then again, it might not. Chargers 24, Broncos 14.

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