LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (0-0)
at DENVER BRONCOS (0-0)
Kickoff: Monday, 10:20 p.m. ET
Line: Denver -3.5, Total: 44.5
Week 1 wraps up with an AFC West showdown, as the Chargers and Broncos start 2017 with new head coaches.
The Chargers move to L.A. coming off back-to-back last place finishes, and 2016 ended with five straight losses (including the only win by the 1-15 Browns). New head coach Anthony Lynn went from RBs coach to offensive coordinator to interim head coach in Buffalo last season, and he inherits a team with plenty of talent. QB Philip Rivers can be an MVP candidate if his O-line steps up and his receivers stay healthy, but those ifs havenít held up the past two seasons. Second-year DE Joey Bosa is already drawing J.J. Watt comparisons (and they arenít far-fetched), while L.A.ís secondary has a chance to be great if CB Jason Verrett returns to form after an October ACL tear. The Broncos followed up their Super Bowl 50 victory with a 9-7 season, and former Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph takes over as head coach. The defense will need to remain elite, which shouldnít be an issue in the secondary, though the front seven could use more production outside of All-Pro edge-rusher Von Miller. Denverís offense doesnít have to be special, but needs to progress in Trevor Siemianís second season as the starter. He has an improved O-line and a potent WR duo in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has done more with less in the past. These teams split their two 2016 meetings: The Chargers won 21-13 as three-point favorites in San Diego, and two weeks later the Broncos won 27-19 as 3.5-point favorites in Denver. Los Angeles finished 2016 with five-straight SU & ATS losses, but is 4-13 SU & 12-5 as a road underdog of more than 2 points since the start of the 2014 season. In September games, the Broncos are 6-0 SU & ATS since 2015 and 15-1 SU & 12-3-1 ATS since 2012. The Chargers will be without first-round draft pick WR Mike Williams (back) and middle LB Denzel Perryman (ankle), while the Broncos will be missing edge-rusher Shane Ray (wrist) and RB Devontae Booker (wrist).
New Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn implemented a creative and effective running game in Buffalo, and now has RB Melvin Gordon (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 12 TD in 13 games) at his disposal. A subpar O-line was reinforced by third-round draft pick OG Dan Feeney and free agent OT Russell Okung (formerly with Denver). QB Philip Rivers (4,386 yards, 33 TD, 21 INT) is the maestro of the offense, and he should be able to cut down on turnovers with better blocking and more experienced receivers around him. WR Tyrell Williams (69 receptions, 1,059 yards, 7 TD) had a breakout 2016, and the healthy return of oft-injured WR Keenan Allen will revitalize the offense. The TE duo of Hunter Henry (36 receptions, 478 yards, 8 TD) and Antonio Gates (53, 548, 7) gives Rivers plenty of options. Since the Chargers led the league in giveaways last year (35), the defense was often put in tough spots, ranking 16th in yards allowed (347 per game) but 29th in points allowed (26.4 per game). DE Joey Bosa (10.5 sacks in 12 games) played like a superstar as a rookie last season, and is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Edge-rusher Melvin Ingram (8 sacks) is also a potent blitzer, and while LB Jatavis Brown (team-leading 63 tackles, 6 passes defended in 12 games) impressed as rookie, running-mate LB Denzel Perryman is recovering from ankle surgery and targeting a late-October return. The secondary was problematic last season, but CBs Casey Hayward (7 INT, 20 passes defended) and Jason Verrett have a chance to be among the NFL's best cornerback duos if Verrett gets back to full speed after tearing his ACL last October.
New Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy (formerly the Chargersí head coach) has a history of squeezing a great production from under-talented units, once winning a playoff game with Tim Tebow under center. QB Trevor Siemian (3,401 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT) enters his second year as a starter with plenty of work to do. He has WR talent around him in Demaryius Thomas (90 receptions, 1.083 yards, 5 TD) and Emmanuel Sanders (79, 1,032, 5), though Denver is extremely thin in the receiving group beyond their two stars. First-round draft pick OT Garett Boles and free agents OG Ronald Leary (formerly with Dallas) and OT Menelik Watson (Oakland) should improve a shaky O-line. Starting RB C.J. Anderson (565 yards from scrimmage, 5 TD in seven games) is a middling talent who would benefit from improved blocking. If Denver returns to the playoffs, it will be on the strength of their defense, which held opponents to a league-best 4.7 yards per play last season. The loss of masterful coordinator Wade Phillips creates a void, though new coordinator Joe Woods hopes to keep a similar system in place. The CB trio of Chris Harris (11 passes defended), Aqib Talib (3 INT, 12 passes defender) and Bradley Roby (8 passes defended) is the league's best, as Denver held opponents to the fewest passing yards (186 per game and 5.4 per attempt) and the lowest QB Rating (69.7) in the NFL last season. Edge-rusher Von Miller (13.5 sacks) is a perennial All-Pro game-wrecker, though heíll need someone to emerge opposite him with DeMarcus Ware retiring Shane Ray (8 sacks) tearing a wrist ligament in July.