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Fearless Prediction: Chargers (6-3) at Broncos (6-3)
Game SnapshotKICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Dick Enberg, Dan Fouts)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers converted just 2-of-11 third-down opportunities in the first meeting. That will sidetrack even the most explosive passing games. With RB LaDainian Tomlinson coming off a two-touchdown game and recent opponents providing film of how to attack Denver's 3-4 defense by getting the linebackers caught up in trash, this could be a rare game in which San Diego uses the run to set up the pass. That would also help QB Philip Rivers against the AFC's top pass rush (29 sacks). ... The Broncos hope QB Kyle Orton (ankle) will be able to play after backup Chris Simms showed significant rust after taking over last Sunday. The gameplan won't differ much as Denver relies on its ground game and short-to-intermediate passing attack. Orton completed 69 percent of his passes in the first meeting, with TE Tony Scheffler leading the way with six receptions. FAST FACTS: Rivers is 5-2 in his career against Denver. ... Broncos OLB Elvis Dumervil needs 1.5 sacks to break his career-best of 12.5 set in 2007.
- RT Jeromey Clary (ankle) missed another practice Thursday and is looking questionable for Sunday.
- C Nick Hardwick (ankle) didn't practice Thursday and won't play on Sunday.
- DL Travis Johnson (groin) didn't practice but he will likely play Sunday.
- DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (groin) didn't practice Thursday but should be ready to go Sunday.
- TE Antonio Gates (foot) participated in Thursday's practice.
- ILB Tim Dobbins (ankle) practiced Thursday and is available for Sunday.
- P Mike Scifres (groin) made all of the kicks he typically would in a practice on Thursday.
- RB Correll Buckhalter, who was limited in Wednesday's practice with a knee injury, didn't practice at all Thursday. His status is questionable for this week's game. If Buckhalter can't play, Knowshon Moreno would likely take almost all the plays at tailback.
- RB LaMont Jordan has missed two straight practices with a back injury. If he is out, that likely means Peyton Hillis will be active. Hillis was a healthy scratch last week.
- WR Brandon Marshall returned to practice after getting Wednesday off. He appears in no danger of missing Sunday's game.
- OT Ryan Harris missed his second straight practice this week with a toe injury. He appears unlikely to play this week.
- WR Brandon Lloyd was held out of practice Thursday with a foot injury. Lloyd hasn't been active in a game yet this season.
- S Josh Barrett returned to practice. Barrett missed last week's game and practice Wednesday because of a hip injury. Barrett is a key special-teams contributor.
Inside The CampsChargers:
Getting after the Broncos' quarterback Chris Simms is likely to start for the first time this season Sunday will go a long in deciding if the Chargers prevail.
With Kyle Orton ailing and Simms looking jittery in his cameo last week, Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips could be in for big games.
Or will they?
Phillips was limited in practice Thursday, resting a bothersome calf injury that has been a concern for a couple of weeks. Merriman, after sitting out Wednesday, was able to go while resting a sore foot as he comes back from knee surgery.
If both are fit Sunday in Denver, chances look good for the Chargers to earn a fifth straight victory and deal the Broncos a fourth straight loss.
Merriman and Phillips were quiet last week, as the Chargers' scheme was focused on keeping Donovan McNabb from breaking out of the pocket. He rolled up 450 passing yards but, for the most part, the Chargers kept the Eagles' receivers in front of them.
This week Merriman and Phillips will be pointed directly at the Broncos' quarterback.
Before last week, Phillips had five sacks in the previous three games and Merriman had four sacks in the previous two games.
With just a few days of preparation remaining before the Broncos play a key AFC West game against the Chargers, there has been little indication quarterback Kyle Orton will be healthy enough to start.
Orton, who was knocked out of last week's game against Washington with a left ankle injury, has not practiced yet this week. He missed his second straight workout on Thursday, although the Broncos aren't ruling him out.
"He's feeling better," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "Certainly not making any determinations based on where he's at now."
McDaniels said early this week he doesn't have a set theory on sitting a player who doesn't practice all week. He said he evaluates those situations on a case-by-case basis.
Backup Chris Simms is in line for the start if Orton can't play. Simms, who struggled last week against Washington, hasn't started since 2006, when he was with Tampa Bay. He was knocked out of his last start with a ruptured spleen, an injury that threatened his life.
Simms looked good in his first practice with the starters, McDaniels said, and seemed to gain confidence throughout the session. Still, the Broncos are publicly holding onto the hope that Orton can play.
"We'd love for him to be out there as soon as he can possibly be out there, and very hopeful he's going to play," McDaniels said. PREDICTION: Chargers 23-19