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Eliminated from playoffs, Broncos aim to finish strong vs. AFC West rivals

Lock looks to sweep Chargers in first season as starter
Bills Broncos Football
Posted at 3:11 PM, Dec 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-27 16:14:43-05

DENVER -- Sometimes, with the finish line in view, I wonder when winning will become normal again for the Broncos.

They have missed the playoffs five straight seasons, something that last happened 2006-2010, featuring the reign of error by Josh McDaniels. They have posted a losing record four straight years, something that last happened from 1963-72.

So there is no postseason. This week is about evaluation, while acknowledging it matters to coach Vic Fangio, who will enter his third season likely needing a winning record to continue in his position. There are no asterisks for COVID-19 or injuries, but the Broncos have been hit hard. Two more starters will not play Sunday as Phillip Lindsay was placed on injured reserve, ending his season and possibly career in Denver, and Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb was ruled out with a sprained ankle.

The Broncos have lost three of their last four games, embarrassed by the Saints in a quarterback-free debacle and the Bills, who showed why Josh Allen is in the MVP conversation. The Chargers ending a nine-game losing streak vs. AFC West opponents last week against Las Vegas. Can Denver sweep Los Angeles, creating momentum entering another offseason of questions?

My Denver7 keys to victory:

Run to the truth
The Broncos will not beat the Chargers on the road by throwing 35-to-40 times. They require balance. Melvin Gordon, who drew the ire of Broncos Country in his first month with the team, has emerged as a bellcow back. He boasts 427 yards on 77 carries for a 5.5 average over the past six games. Lindsay, meanwhile, countered with 215 yards over his last 73 carries for 2.95 per pop.

"Rough year for all of us and our families. I want to thank you guys for all your continued support and loyalty. You guys are truly the best fans in the NFL! I look forward to a healthy 2021 season!" Lindsay tweeted Saturday.

Gordon will be leaned on heavily against a Chargers defense, while better the last two weeks, allows 123.8 yards per game on the ground. Gordon needs 176 yards over the final two weeks to reach 1,000 for the first time since 2017.

Justin Time
The Broncos recognize Justin Herbert's talent. He needs one TD pass to set the single-season rookie record. He is a lock for Rookie of the Year honors, and his size and poise make it hard to believe Trevor Lawrence will be better next year. However, Herbert has shown some wrinkles in the shirt over the past three games, posting four touchdowns with three picks. The Broncos must disguise coverages and take chances.

Corner help
The Broncos will be in trouble if Keenan Allen plays, and if he's remotely healthy. The Broncos are thinner than Flat Stanley at cornerback with Michael Ojemudia and De'Vante Bausby coming off awful games. Ojemudia, who will be looking to prove he deserves t start next season, was ejected and fined $5,082 for throwing a punch against the Bills. And Stefon Diggs put Bausby through the spin cycle. The Broncos must use safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson more liberally in coverage.

Lock it in
Drew Lock believes he is still The Guy in Denver. I appreciate his confidence, but I don't believe he holds that status anymore. I expect the Broncos to bring in competition. Lock could help his case by avoiding a turnover. The last game he did that was the season opener. Free advice to Lock. Be very careful throwing in Chris Harris' direction. He knows your tendencies well.

End around
The Chargers struggle to cover tight ends and Noah Fant looks healthier than at any point this season. He is coming off a season-best eight catches. He needs to approach that total again for the Broncos to win.

Slow the run
McTelvin Agim has been getting some run upfront. Can he prove he's a valuable rotational piece going into the offseason? The Broncos have issues at multiple defensive positions, requiring more playmakers. That means the players you see over the final two weeks might not be here next season as the team seeks to add at cornerback and likely linebacker.

Special Delivery
The Broncos used a kicker other than Brandon McManus last week for the first time since 2014. Taylor Russolino was "terrible," as special teams coach Tom McMahon admitted. It would mark a satisfying return for McManus to pull off the upset with a long kick. I just don't think the Broncos have enough to give him that moment.

Renck's Prediction: Chargers 30, Broncos 23.