Kegley: Sunday Should Be a Blowout, But Will It Be?

Updated: Jan 1

The Los Angeles Chargers have a big game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a game which keeps their playoff chances alive if won. If lost, well, the Bolts will need help from other teams to make the tournament.

In the Chargers favor: the game will not be played in Denver. All-time, the Chargers trail the Broncos 53-70-1. When the Chargers play at Denver, their record is 18-44-1. When away from Denver, they are 35-26.

Quarterback Justin Herbert throwing a football in an NFL game.
Justin Herbert throws a pass vs. the Denver Broncos in 2020.

Who's In / Who's Out - Chargers

The Chargers announced the return of several key players from the reserve/COVID-19 list, including Austin Ekeler, Michael Davis, Joey Bosa, Jalen Guyton, Corey Linsley, Derwin James, and (surprisingly) Mike Williams.

Quarterback Justin Herbert gesturing with his palms out.
Justin Herbert gestures during a week 17 practice in 2021.

The news wasn't all good: the Chargers also announced Friday that Jared Cook was placed on the "COVID list" and will miss Sunday's game. Cook joins Chris Harris Jr., Nasir Adderley, Matt Overton, Dustin Hopkins, Kenneth Murray, Storm Norton, Trey Pipkins and a few others on the list. Some currently on the COVID list have a chance to play Sunday. It looks like Tristan Vizcaino will once again be the Bolts' kicker, at least for this game.

Who's In / Who's Out - Broncos

Denver announced Friday that Jerry Jeudy and Bradley Chubb have joined a long list of Broncos on the COVID list, including Tim Patrick, Jonathon Cooper, and, according to Ian Rapoport, possibly Courtland Sutton. Rapoport also reported that Drew Lock is likely starting at QB for the Broncos again this week with Teddy Bridgewater still recovering from a concussion.

With the long list of playmakers on IR for this game, the situation resembles the one Los Angeles faced vs Houston last week--a surprising Chargers loss which most predicted would be an easy win. Drew Lock is no Davis Mills, but he has led a 21-point comeback against the Chargers and should not be taken lightly.

The Broncos expect to have Running Backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams in the back field Sunday, and the Chargers weakness on defense is still the run game. If you can't stop the run, you won't stop the pass, either.

Gordon has taken a little step back in production as Williams has stepped up in the run and pass game, scoring 5 total touchdowns in the past 5 games but only losing one fumble. Melvin Gordon is known to fumble: when Gordon has the ball, the Chargers should go for the strip.

Running Back Melvin Gordon of the Denver Broncos removing his helmet as he walks off the field.
Melvin Gordon walks off the field after a fumble vs. Philadelphia during the 2021 Season.

Drew Lock will have to use Noah Fant, Kendall Hinton, Diontae Spencer, and probably Travis Fulgham if his best receivers cannot play.

Mike Will Be Crucial

The Chargers sorely missed Mike Williams last week and he needs to be a big factor in this game. I want to see the Chargers get Herbert out of the pocket on some plays: his ability to throw on the move will open up misdirection run plays, which in turn will set up deep shots to Mike Williams. Moving Hebert also helps reduce opportunities for his passes to be batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Mike A leaping Mike Williams catches a pass one-handed over a Broncos defender.
Mike Williams catches a long pass over a Denver defender.

Chargers scored 40 points 3 times this year, in those game Mike Williams had totals of 165, 97, and 110 receiving yards. Utilizing Williams will be essential to getting the offense going. Ekeler's presence will keep linebackers honest as they must account for him and the run game.

Score Prediction

The Chargers have the play makers they need to win this game, and are in a far better situation offensively than they were last week against Houston. So who wins on Sunday?

Football players clapping between plays at a practice.
Justin Herbert and teammates clap during a Week 17 practice in 2021.

Many factors favor the Chargers: playing at home (more importantly, not playing in Denver) as well as getting play makers back on the field while Denver misses some of their best talent. I predict the Chargers win 24-13. The Bolts always seem to play down to competition and the Broncos defensive system is still good. While it should be a blow out, I think this game will be close.