CARSON, Calif. -- The stadium mocks the enormity of the event. In the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, the Broncos face their biggest game to date. It might be unfair to call the sixth game a must-win, but it's not incorrect. Lose and the Broncos fall to .500 -- "We want to be among the good teams in the league, not 3-3," cornerback Aqib Talib told me -- with road games looming at first-place Kansas City and first-place Philadelphia before returning home to host the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
As such, succumbing to a winless team at home followed by a defeat to a Los Angeles Chargers team winless at their home complicates the path back to the postseason.
My Denver7 Keys to a Broncos' (much-needed) victory:
1) Ground control
The Broncos fell into a trap figuratively and literally against the New York Giants. New York used the trap play to expose the Broncos' rush defense. The gash runs left a mark. The Giants ran under center 25 of 32 run plays. Will Philip Rivers follow suit, eschew the shotgun and rely on Melvin Gordon?
2) Hit the QB
Rivers will take chances. He will stay in the pocket. The Broncos know him well. You have to keep Rivers from stepping up, get hands in his face. And hit him. Contact leads to wobblers and interceptions. The Broncos' four takeaways is the most concerning stat on an otherwise terrific defense.
3) Better Trevor
Trevor Siemian recognizes this is a big week. He can't keep playing the way he has the last three games if the Broncos are to reach the postseason. It's all about winning the turnover battle. The Broncos have won 31 straight when they do that. Siemian has thrown four picks in his last three games. That won't work. Can he stay upright? The challenge is real for new right tackle Allen Barbre. If Siemian struggles today -- he's 3-5 on the road in his career -- the call for Brock Osweiler will go from a whisper to a scream.
4) Run away train
Denver has yet to prove it can win with Siemian when it doesn't run the ball. Siemian is 3-7 when he throws 35 times, and 1-6 when it reaches 40 attempts. C.J. Anderson needs a rebound game. Devontae Booker is becoming more of a factor, but the answer lies elsewhere.
5) Feed Jamaal
Jamaal Charles has kept quiet and kept his head down. He believes his knee is healthy and he would love an expanded role. I know the Broncos have tried to ease him back in to keep him effective. But the season could slip away before the second half with Charles watching. With Emmanuel Sanders out, there is no excuse for not getting Charles involved, especially in the red zone.
The Broncos need a play from somebody whose name doesn't roll of the tongue. Maybe it's Hunter Sharp on punt return. Or possibly Jordan Taylor with a big third down conversion.
7) BMac Back
For all of his struggles, Brandon McManus has not missed a kick on the road. Then again, he's only had one road game. He has missed five this season, most by any NFL kicker. It matches his total in the previous two season. In a close game, any yips, shanks or hooks will doom the Broncos.
RENCK PREDICTION: Broncos 20, Chargers 18