Chargers-Broncos Preview: Austin Ekeler could be key to win over Denver

For the final week of the regular season, we brought back Mile High Report‘s Ian St. Clair to help us preview the second installment of the Chargers-Broncos season series. As of Friday, the Chargers are three-point underdogs on the road with the over/under currently sitting at 40.0, per DraftKings Sportsbook.

These team’s couldn’t be in more contrasting places entering week 18, but that doesn’t mean we’re not in store for the same dogfight we normally get between two AFC West teams.

Let’s go ahead and jump right in.


1. This year has probably seemed like an eternity for Broncos fans. The Nathaniel Hackett experience failed and they’ve swiftly moved on to another fresh start. In your opinion, what exactly happened? How did things go up in flames so quickly?

Cue the “It’s been 84 years” gif from the movie “Titanic.” To put this season in perspective, my podcast cohost Adam Malnati said his dad called this the worst Broncos season ever. This is a man who has been going to Broncos games since the 1960s. As for what happened, it was clear from the first game of the season that Hackett was in way over his head and this was a bad decision. Then over the next few weeks when Hackett needed help with clock and game management, and then had the playcalling taken away, the signal went out Hackett was never going to hack it. So in reality, this falls on George Paton for hiring such an incompetent coach. As for how things were torched so quickly, just look at Hackett’s decision to be content to kick a 64-yard field goal with around 1 minute left and time outs in the opening game against the Seattle Seahawks.

2. Who are some names being thrown around as potential head coaching candidates for the Broncos? Are there any coaches you personally prefer to have in Denver? What type of coach does this team need right now?

Based on reports from the Broncos top local reporter, Mike Klis, the top two choices are Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton. Followed by Dan Quinn. In last week’s 5 questions with Arrowhead Pride, I made the case for Payton. And I was totally on board with that. But now I’m all in on Harbaugh. He’s the coach and has the track record this franchise needs right now. In the four years before Habarugh got to the San Francisco 49ers, they went 26-38. In his four years as the head coach, they went 44-19-1, with three trips to the NFC Championship Game and one to the Super Bowl. Also look at what he’s done with Michigan, namely finally beating Ohio State. So he’s done this before, and that’s exactly what the Broncos need right now. So Greg Penner must do whatever it takes to make this happen. Use that Walmart money to get the guy who can change the culture in that locker room and get this franchise back to competing for championships.

3. Last time these teams played, Russell Wilson was still struggling to find any semblance of his past successes. Now with one game to go, how would you summarize Wilson’s first season in Denver? Is this who he is or will the right coach make him once again look like the guy who led Seattle to a Super Bowl?

Wilson’s first season in Denver has been a disaster. It doesn’t help to have Hackett leading the way. Based on reports, the offense had no idea what was going on. But Wilson has looked terrible this season. He needs to refocus himself this offseason, and spend more time on his craft than coming up with cheesy catchphrases. But I am one of the few who doesn’t think he’s washed. And I think Harbaugh is the coach to get the most out of him, especially given the success he had with Colin Kaepernick.

4. Since it was such an anomaly, I have to ask: What happened to the defense that allowed the Rams to put up 51 points just a few weeks ago? How did they do it? Is it a formula the Chargers should try to exploit, as well?

Here’s how I think of that Christmas Day nightmare: It was the universe telling Penner, “Fire Hackett.” “Do you really need to think about this?” In all seriousness, I do think the team quit on Hackett. The Broncos had enough. Now, the Rams did exploit the biggest weakness on his defense and that’s containing the edge in the running game. If Austin Ekeler plays on Sunday, or whoever the running back is, that’s how you beat this defense.

5. The Chargers are currently two-point underdogs to the Broncos on the road with the over/under set at 40, per DraftKings Sportsbook. This likely has to do with the possibility of the Chargers resting players, but we won’t know for sure how things will play out until the Ravens-Bengals game is over in the earlier window. Just like last time, let’s top this whole thing off with a short game summary, a final score prediction, and whether or not you’re taking the over or under in this game.

Based on how the Broncos looked and played in Week 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs under interim head coach Jerry Rosburg, I’d expect them to play with the same focus and intensity. I also think a lot of this depends on what happens in the early game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. If Brandon Staley plays his starters, I think the Chargers win. If LA’s starters sit, the Broncos “should” win. I’d expect the Chargers to focus on the running game, especially if Justin Herbert doesn’t play. In the end, I think it’ll be a close game with the final score being 20-17. I just have no clue which team. And definitely take the under. For what it’s worth, the under is 11-5 in Broncos games this season.

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