DENVER (AP) — Philip Rivers feels Von Miller’s pain.
Three years ago, it was Rivers leading the Chargers into the finale of a failed season, playing for pride and facing a talent-laden Broncos team that was jockeying for playoff position.
The Chargers put a scare into the Broncos that day before Peyton Manning returned after halftime to rescue Denver and catapult the franchise on a joyous journey that would end in a rain of confetti and the Lombardi Trophy in his hand.
This time, the Chargers (11-4) are the ones seeking a smoother path in the playoffs when they visit the Broncos (6-9), who are out to avoid the ignominy of posting double-digit losses in consecutive seasons for the first time in 51 years.
“We haven’t been in this position in a long time,” Rivers said. “The way I look at it from their standpoint is, how would I treat it? That’s the only way that I know. You only get 16 of them that you’re promised and you play them all regardless of what is coming next.”
The Chargers treated that game on Jan. 3, 2015, which they lost 27-20, like they were the ones preparing for the postseason, not the offseason.
“We’ve been in this boat somewhat, not exactly similar, and we were at Denver, out of it, and they were playing to be the No. 1 seed a few years ago. We came and fought like crazy to keep them from getting it,” Rivers recounted. “This is a division opponent. It’s professional football, so I expect to get their best. We know that their best is dang good.”
A win in Denver combined with an upset by the Raiders in Kansas City would give the Chargers their first AFC West title since 2009 along with the coveted homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Otherwise, L.A. hits the road for wild-card weekend.
“Yeah, it is weird to be rooting for the Raiders, but that’s the nature of this business,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said.
Rivers will be rooting all right, but not for Oakland.
“I’m rooting for us on Sunday,” he said, “and whatever happens, happens .”
Other subplots Sunday in what might be Vance Joseph’s final game in Denver if Broncos general manager John Elway decides to move on and look for his fourth head coach in six seasons:
Miller is fired up to face the Chargers , and not just because he has sacked Rivers 16 times in his career, more than twice as many as any other QB on his hit list.
Miller took offense at the Chargers dissing Denver after the Broncos pulled off a 23-22 last-second win in L.A. last month despite being dominated all afternoon.
Keenan Allen refused to give the Broncos any credit , suggesting, “They suck.”
Rivers’ reaction wasn’t as succinct but just as notable in Miller’s mind.
He said he was miffed by “the Keenan Allen comment and Philip Rivers said, ‘We lost three games. We lost to two good teams (the Rams and Chiefs) and we stubbed our toe with the Broncos.’
“For us, it’s little stuff like that, especially for me personally, you know, where OK, we’ve got a second crack at it. Let’s see.”
With rookie rushing sensation Philip Lindsay headed for surgery on his right wrist, fellow rookie Royce Freeman returns to the starting role he relinquished two months ago when his ankle injury coincided with Lindsay’s emergence.
“Phillip’s been so good, he’s gotten less and less chances, but Royce has been Royce,” Joseph said of the third-round pick from Oregon who has rushed for five touchdowns and a 4.8-yard average.
Lindsay, the first undrafted offensive player selected to a Pro Bowl, is one of eight offensive players who started multiple games for the Broncos this season that won’t be in uniform Sunday.
The Chargers have been outscored 43-14 in the first quarter the past five games and their minus-29 point differential is the worst in the league during that stretch.
The Broncos have been mired in slow starts for two months as coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scripted plays have been a colossal bust: Denver has punted on its opening drive in each of the last eight games.
In their last 10 first-quarter drives covering four games, the Broncos have punted nine times and scored one touchdown.
KEENUM A KEEPER?
Elway also has to decide whether to keep Case Keenum at $18 million next season or jettison him with a $7 million thank-you. Although his 3,598 yards passing are a career high, so are his 14 interceptions and 33 sacks.
“Nobody in this building likes losing, nobody in this city likes losing … I hate it,” Keenum said. “To go out on a high note, to beat a team going into playoffs, maybe to show some other teams how to beat them, we’ve got a great opportunity here, with a great opponent and it’d be a great way to end the year.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed.
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