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Week 11: Chargers-Broncos preview

The SportsXchange

San Diego at Denver

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 714

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

*Keys to the game: Philip Rivers completed 82.4 percent of his passes in the past two games, but the memory of his four-interception game vs. Denver and a haunting pick returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter last week finds Rivers and the Chargers anything but confident as they land in Denver. The Chargers have used two tight end sets, giving Rivers more short reads and extending the path of edge pass rushers to Rivers. The Broncos rang up seven sacks, a safety and scored a touchdown last week at Carolina. That kind of support might lead Peyton Manning to ease off the up-tempo passing game. Manning continues to find good looks depending on how defenses play big receiver Demaryius Thomas and utility man Eric Decker. Last week, he peppered slot WR Brandon Stokley and TE Joel Dreessen (eight combined catches on 11 targets). Manning has hit 70-plus percent of his passes in six consecutive games.

*Matchup to watch - Chargers LT Jared Gaither vs. Broncos' pass rushers: If a shoulder injury sidelines Elvis Dumervil, 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers would likely see the bulk of the action opposite Von Miller. Gaither (groin) could miss his sixth game of the season, which would put Mike Harris in front of the firing line. If that's the case, expect Miller to move around, pick on Harris and create lanes for his teammates to attack.

*Player spotlight - Ayers: A former first-round pick coach John Fox said was coming around, Ayers made the most of his extending playing time last week with two sacks in the second half. He had been a rotational player this season, but appears in line for more snaps against the Chargers.

*Fast facts: Manning is tied with Dan Marino for third all-time with 147 career wins and second all-time in touchdown passes (420). ... The Chargers have won five of their past six games at Denver.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Broncos could stake a claim as one of the teams to beat in the AFC if their defensive evolution continues on its current course. That group already caused one Philip Rivers meltdown, and keeps him on a slippery slope Sunday.

*Our pick: Broncos 28-23
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