Broncos can clinch AFC West title Sunday

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Peyton Manning will always be linked to the San Diego Chargers.

There was draft day in 1998 when he went to the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 1 overall pick and the Chargers were stuck with Ryan Leaf, one of the biggest busts in NFL history.

The Chargers — and particularly their fans — got some measure of revenge when Philip Rivers and his mates eliminated Manning and the Colts from the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Then came Manning's Denver years, and the Chargers just can't get rid of "Perfect Peyton," as Leaf once referred to him.

There was Manning leading a 35-point, second-half comeback on a Monday night in 2012. He and the Broncos eliminated the Chargers from last season's playoffs.

Now Manning and the Broncos (10-3) can clinch their fourth straight AFC West title if they beat the Chargers (8-5) at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.

"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. "It's a lot on the line. It's tough playing there. Every time we've played this team, it seems like it's been settled by a couple points here or there and that is what you'd expect this time around."

The Broncos are seeking their 12th straight division road win, which would tie San Francisco's NFL record set from 1987-90.

The Chargers are trying to bounce back from being shut out in the second half of a 23-14 loss to New England.

Here are some things to watch for when the Broncos visit the Chargers:

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH MANNING? Fantasy players are mad because Manning's touchdown streak came to a halt at 51 games, three shy of Drew Brees' NFL record. Plus, he was picked off twice for the fourth time in the past six games.

Plus, people wonder why the Broncos are running the ball more.

"I don't have a great answer for them, I guess," Manning said. "I'm always trying to play better, always watch the film of the games pretty critically with my coaches, trying to improve whether we won a game or lost a game, trying to see how I can do my job better in whatever phase that is. So I feel good physically and certainly I'm always looking to play better."

MORE MANNING: He hasn't gone back-to-back weeks without a touchdown toss since the Colts rested their starters for the playoffs at the end of the 2009 season.

BOLTS' BUSINESS: The Chargers are in control of their destiny, but will need to win two of their final three to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.

"Hey, we're still in control, that's the positive," Rivers said. "But that's going to change if we don't get it done on Sunday."

The Chargers enter their home finale as the AFC's sixth and final playoff seed.

Last year, the Bolts needed Baltimore and Miami to each lose their final two games in order to reach the postseason.

"We don't need any help," Rivers said. "We need Chargers help. It's about what you think would be a divisional game in December with a lot riding on it."

WILL RYAN RUN? Chargers running back Ryan Mathews didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday after injuring his right ankle when he was tripped against the Patriots.

The Chargers were able to win at Denver last season in large part because Mathews' big game on the ground helped keep Manning on the sideline.

SAD-SACKS: The Chargers' pass rush remains missing in action, with only seven sacks in the past eight games. Dwight Freeney has gone 10 games without dropping a quarterback, remaining stuck on two sacks for the season.

REALLY, COACH? Chargers coach Mike McCoy refused to explain why he punted on fourth-and-4 from the 50 while trailing the Patriots by nine points with more than six minutes left Sunday, other than his usual explanation that "I thought it was best for the football team."

The next day, he urged Chargers fans not to sell their tickets to Broncos fans. Last Sunday night, there were thousands of Patriots fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

Fans can make enough money scalping tickets to marquee games to put a big dent in the hefty cost of their season tickets.

So there could be plenty of Broncos orange at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.


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