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Horse Tracks: Just another game...but for the AFC West

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Broncos versus the Chargers is always a big game, no matter what the records. But when the 10-3 Broncos take on the 8-5 Chargers in San Diego this weekend, the game will have a fair amount on the line for both teams.

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Good morning, Broncos Country!

The game Sunday against our divisional rival San Diego Chargers is either "just another game" or a big AFC West matchup - depending on which of the Broncos players you ask.

"It'll be a great game," said Terrance Knighton, noting that Broncos fans travel well to San Diego. "[The Chargers] are fighting to stay in it, we're trying to get them out of it, and we're just treating it like another game on the schedule."

Any other game...except a win this weekend would solidify the Broncos as AFC West champs and keep their hopes alive (and more well) that there's a chance of home field advantage throughout the playoffs (Come on, Miami...Tom Brady isn't that remarkable!)

A win would also mean a fourth-straight AFC West division title - something Coach John Fox also insists is not on their radar.

"Right now all our focus is on the San Diego Chargers," Fox said Wednesday. "What that brings is kind of what it brings. We're just focused on what we need to do to prepare in all three phases for this game."

But Peyton Manning was at least willing to say what the rest of us are thinking:

"These division games count double, so I think you do put special emphasis on division games and that is how we're looking at it," Manning said, calling it a game with "a lot on the line."

Division games count double, so I think you do put special emphasis on them. It's a game you want to play well.   -Peyton Manning, quarterback.

Thank you. Yes, it's just a week 15 game, but it's also a WEEK 15 GAME, and against the Chargers who will be at home, trying to stay alive for the playoffs and with their offensive weapons healthy. When you're a team in the hunt, every game is import ant, and divisional rivals on their home turf are not easy games to win, which is desperately what the Broncos want.

"It's a game that you want to play well, and you want to do your job and try to find a way to come away with a victory, but it's tough," Manning said, adding that he thinks every time Denver has played San Diego there has been a lot on the line. "So it comes down to execution. There is not a lot you can throw at them that they haven't seen or vice versa, so you've got to be on top of what you're doing, really be sharp in the execution, really be good in the communication, especially when you go on the road. It's tough playing there."

In fact, the Broncos' record at San Diego in regular season games is 22-32, though our home record against the Bolts is 37-17-1. But since the 2011 season, Broncos are 5-2 against the Chargers (6-2 including last season's playoff game) and both losses were at Mile High.

For tight end Julius Thomas, who is looking forward to playing after sitting out the last couple, it doesn't matter whether any game - this one included - is home or on the road.

"I think you can't look at it as anything but just a game," Thomas said, adding that if a player thinks too much he plays differently. "I think we all take it as this is another game and it's another opportunity to go in and show the rest of the league what we can do."

What they've been doing the last two games has been working, and that is primarily showcasing a running game. Whether we see a lot of running plays called again this weekend is still to be determined - at least publicly.

"I don't think there is any pattern," Manning said of the game plan for Sunday. "We're certainly doing some things on offense as we try to evolve always and try to find plays that we feel are going to work for us and help us win. I think those are good plays."

But Manning dispelled any rumors of his health being a factor in the lack of passing the last two weeks.

"I feel pretty good," he said, adding that this time of the season last year he was taking Wednesdays off. "So the fact that I'm able to be out there, I certainly see that as a positive and I feel pretty good."

Regardless of how good Manning is feeling and the offense is clicking, the Broncos defense needs to feel really good as it goes up against one of the best passers in the NFL and always a nemesis to our secondary.

Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers has five games this season with three or more touchdown passes, and he's a master at marching his team down the field quickly when he needs to, usually with some big plays to tight end Antonio Gates. And now that running back Ryan Mathews is back in the lineup, the Broncos will have to stay alert.

We don't change for running backs. We change for schemes, not running backs. It doesn't matter if Adrian Peterson is running back there. If we do what we do up front, no ball carrier is getting through.   -Terrance Knighton

But Knighton insists that the personnel on the opponent's offense is not what matters and that the Broncos will definitely not be changing what they do just because Mathews is back.

"We don't change for running backs," Pot Roast said. "We change for schemes but not for running backs. It doesn't matter if Adrian Peterson was back there. If we do what we do up front, it really doesn't matter, no ball carrier is going to get through."

A boost for this D will be the potential return of linebacker Danny Trevathan who is eligible to come off IR and play if ready.

Whether he's in the lineup just yet is not known, but Trevathan insists he is ready to get back out there.

"I'm definitely eager. I'm always ready to go out there and put on the best performance possible, especially with this defense we've got right now," Trevathan said. "It's amazing to see how they're playing right now, and when I come back, it's going to be something to watch because all of us click together so well. It's just fun out there playing with them."

Taking one day at a time, Trevathan added that when he does return, he and Brandon Marshall, his replacement for the past two months, will be a massive force on the field together.

"We’re going to fit together," Trevathan said about working alongside Marshall. "That’s speed out there. That’s athleticism. And that’s what the league has come to now, that kind of a third-down linebacker: quick speedster, be able to make plays and we both fit in that category. It’s going to be something to watch when me and [Marshall] get together. That’s all I’m going to say."

Bring down that quarterback and his receivers - especially that Gates guy -  and that's all that will need to be said.

Horse Tracks

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