Broncos scouting report: How Denver matches up against Chargers and predictions

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9), Sunday, 2:05 p.m. MT, SoFi Stadium, CBS, 850 AM, 94.1 FM, 103.5 FM

Three things to watch

1. All hail Herbert. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is a leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with 3,781 yards passing and 31 total touchdowns (four rushing) through 13 games started. The No. 6 overall pick from last year’s NFL draft is liable to make mistakes  – he’s thrown 10 interceptions – but Herbert gives L.A. the clear quarterback advantage on Sunday.

2. CHJ revenge game. Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. spent his first nine NFL seasons with the Broncos before leaving in free agency last offseason. Harris missed L.A.’s Week 8 game in Denver with a foot injury, but he’s now healthy and motivated to face his old team. Harris returned a pick 51 yards against the Raiders last week to mark his 21st career interception. The 31-year-old has still got it.

 3. Get out the broomsticks. Amid yet another brutal Broncos season, a silver lining is Denver’s ongoing dominance over one of their AFC West rivals. The Broncos are aiming for their second consecutive season sweep of the Chargers after beating LA earlier this year, 31-30, in a dramatic comeback victory. Denver’s last defeat on the road against the Chargers came in 2017.

Who has the edge?

When the Chargers run

Eaton native Austin Ekeler hasn’t flourished this season in his first year as the Chargers’ featured running back while dealing with several lower-body injuries. Ekeler has one rushing touchdown without a single 100-yard game. That’s good news for a Broncos defense that ranks fifth-worst in the NFL allowing 134.6 rushing yards per game.

Edge: Even

When the Chargers pass

Justin Herbert set the NFL’s all-time rookie record with seven 300-yard passing games in his first season, and with one more touchdown pass, he’ll eclipse the single-season rookie record set by Baker Mayfield (27). A depleted Broncos secondary that got torched by Bills quarterback Josh Allen in Week 15 isn’t getting reinforcements Sunday. It all sets up for another gawdy Herbert stat line.

Edge: Chargers

When the Broncos run

Melvin Gordon ran for a pair of touchdowns last week in a game that saw the Broncos exceed their average team rushing total with 140 yards. The Chargers held four opponents under the century mark rushing this season but gave up 173 yards on the ground against Las Vegas a week ago.

Edge: Even

When the Broncos pass

The Broncos struggled to protect Drew Lock against the Bills (three sacks allowed) as Denver’s passing offense sputtered to 132 yards. Lock hasn’t thrown an interception in the past two games, but he needs a cast of young Broncos wide receivers to grow up fast. The Chargers tout a top-10 passing defense with 10 interceptions on the year.

Edge: Chargers

Special teams

Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, after missing the Bills game on the reserve/COVID-19 list, is back this week. The Chargers rank inside the NFL’s bottom-10 in almost every special teams statistical category.

Edge: Broncos

Post predictions

Ryan O’Halloran, beat writer: Chargers 31, Broncos 24

Justin Herbert against the embattled Broncos’ cornerback corps? Uh-oh. Herbert breaks the record for most touchdown passes by a rookie (now at 27) with three scores and 321 yards.

Mark Kiszla, columnist: Chargers 31, Broncos 30

As of now, the standard by which Drew Lock is measured? Chargers QB Justin Herbert. Keep firing your best shot, Drew.

Sean Keeler, columnist: Broncos 27, Chargers 26

Under Uncle Vic, the Broncos are 4-2 straight up and 6-0 against the spread coming off a loss of 17 points or more. If Drew Lock can’t pull a dead cat bounce out of this one, The Trevor Lawrence Bandwagon is gonna be standing room only.

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