Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego (grass, outdoors)
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: Broncos by 1
Forecast: Clear skies, 73 degrees
Records: Broncos (Overall: 2-3, AFC West: 1-0); Chargers (Overall: 3-2, AFC West 2-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Oct. 9, 2011: Chargers 29, Broncos 24; Nov. 27, 2011: Broncos 16, Chargers 13 (OT). Series record: Broncos hold a 55-48-1 edge.
What matters: The Broncos and Chargers have dueled for 52 years, but only for a brief period in the mid-1980s when the careers of John Elway and Dan Fouts crossed did the series feature a quarterback duel as captivating as the one looming between Denver's Peyton Manning and San Diego's Philip Rivers. Rivers has a career 106.2 quarterback rating against the Broncos -- 11.7 points higher than his mark against all other opponents -- but the Broncos contained him last year thanks to Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, each of whom sacked him twice during their two 2011 games. Manning is on pace for a career high in passing yardage and has gone 163 passes without an interception, but he's 1-4 against Rivers, including two postseason defeats.
Who matters: WR Demaryius Thomas has teetered on the edge between splendid and splat in recent weeks. He ranks second in the league in receiving yardage (513) and had a career-best 188 yards on nine receptions last week, but he has lost a fumble in three consecutive games, including two fumbles in the open field against Oakland and New England. Thomas spent the week toting a football covered in a pair of green beanies; he was forced to carry it around team headquarters, between drills at practice and to team meetings. "You get tired of holding it. You hold it so tight because it's slippery," Thomas said. "If you just hold it regularly, it'll come out easily."
LBs Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard struggled to contain the Patriots on the ground last week, and their issues helped allow New England to ramble for 251 yards on the ground. Facing San Diego RB Ryan Mathews could exacerbate their issues; he has averaged 6.1 yards per touch the last three weeks and has notched three of his five career 100-yard rushing games at the Broncos' expense, having hit triple figures in each of his games against them.
But RB Willis McGahee lights up at the sight of the Chargers just like Mathews does with the Broncos. McGahee went over 100 yards twice at San Diego's expense last year (125 and 117 yards) and has averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his last three games against them.
Key matchup: Miller and Dumervil vs. whoever lines up at left tackle for San Diego. Chargers LT Jared Gaither didn't practice all week, and if he can't play, Mike Harris, an undrafted rookie from UCLA who has already started three games this year, would work in his place. Denver hasn't been shy about shuffling Dumervil and Miller between the left and right sides to try to force mismatches and confusion; as a result, the two have combined for eight sacks this year and helped the Broncos snap out of a 2-9 funk against San Diego last season.
Injuries of note: LT Ryan Clady did not practice Friday after suffering what coach John Fox called a "tweak" of his hamstring during Thursday's practice, but he returned to practice Saturday and is probable… LB Keith Brooking suffered a concussion last Sunday but passed his post-concussion examinations, practiced all week and is expected to play … RG Chris Kuper practiced all week and is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing the last five games because of a fractured left forearm; he was active last week but did not play.
Inside stuff: Denver has yet to adequately replace KR/PR Eddie Royal, who left for San Diego in free agency this year. The Broncos claimed returner Trindon Holliday off waivers from the Texans this week, hoping he might be the answer to the questions that have dogged the Broncos on special teams since Royal left. San Diego isn't using Royal on kickoff returns, but is using him on punts and as a receiver. "Third downs, special teams, they're using him to the fullest over there. I wish we could have used him that much," Broncos CB Champ Bailey said.
Connections: Royal and TE Dante Rosario left Denver for San Diego as free agents this past offseason. Rosario spent only the 2011 season in Denver; Royal was a 2008 second-round pick who played four seasons there … Broncos CB Tracy Porter and Chargers DT Aubrayo Franklin were teammates in New Orleans last year.
Stat you should know: The Broncos' plus-52 scoring in the fourth quarter not only leads the league but is the best for any NFL team through five games since 2006 and the second-best since 1980.
Record watch: The next time Manning leads a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime he will tie Dan Marino for first all-time with 47 such drives … Bailey will play in his 200th career game Monday.
Looking ahead: The Broncos get a bye next week and would obviously prefer not to go into it stewing over a defeat. A loss Monday would place Denver two games back of the Chargers for the AFC West crown and facing a tiebreaker disadvantage. A win Monday gives the Broncos a head-to-head edge, and even though they'd only be tied with the Chargers, they'd feel that order was restored.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Chargers 21