DENVER — At first glance it isn't hard to understand why the Denver Broncos are an overwhelming favorite over the Chargers today. It isn't hard on a second or third glance, either.
The Broncos will be playing in front of their 125th consecutive home sellout crowd. Their home record under Coach Dan Reeves is 32-9 (.780). The weather, which will be cold and probably snowy, won't hurt the Broncos, either.
The Chargers, who have lost eight straight games, will likely have to play conservatively in the bad weather and with inexperienced quarterback Tom Flick, who played "horribly" by his own admission in last week's 24-23 loss to Kansas City.
If San Diego chooses to emphasize field position, defense and the running game, the advantage would seem to be Denver's. The Chargers have one healthy runner, Gary Anderson; one who is just off injured reserve and unproven, Curtis Adams, and a third, Tim Spencer, who didn't practice last week because of foot and ankle injuries.
Meanwhile, the Broncos have rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the last seven weeks and limited the opposition to fewer than 100 yards in six games.
Denver quarterback John Elway has not thrown an interception in four games, and the Broncos have been the best in pro football at avoiding turnovers while forcing the other side to commit them. Their turnover differential is plus-8, compared to minus-12 for the Chargers. Both Reeves and Saunders agreed that those figures are the foremost reasons their teams have fared as they have this season.
Put it all together, and it's difficult to see how the Broncos could be anything but confident.
And that's just what concerns Reeves.
"Our biggest concern is their losing streak," the Denver coach said. "Hopefully, we have enough veteran players who know it's going to be hard to beat the Chargers. Everything has been going smoothly for us, but we have to get our intensity where it needs to be (today)."
Defensive lineman Rulon Jones agreed that the Broncos must avoid being too optimistic.
"We're not as good a team when we get to thinking like that," Jones said. "I think we were too confident against the Jets (Denver's only loss). We have to realize we've got a long way to go before we make the playoffs."
Maybe so, but the rest of the season is likely to pass much more quickly for the Broncos than the Chargers.
San Diego's offense remains in the hands of Flick until Dan Fouts and/or Mark Herrmann recover from concussions.
Flick is not likely to strike terror into the hearts of opposing defenses. Jones, for example, had not even heard of him until recently.
Flick or no Flick, the Broncos profess respect for what's left of Air Coryell.
"We know them all too well," Jones said. "We've seen San Diego do too many crazy things to us. With their explosiveness, you've got to respect them."
The Chargers will do their best to keep Flick from feeling that all the pressure is on him.
"We're hoping that with a week under his belt, Tom will be able to do things by instinct and reaction rather than thinking," Saunders said. "It's quite a responsibility to run the offense of the Chargers with all its intricacies. . . . The true earmark of a quarterback is making the plays he has to in order to win the game. Tom was able to take us down to get a late touchdown and put us in the lead last week."
The Broncos, as Saunders duly noted, are playing like the best team in the National Football League. The chance to pull a colossal upset appeals to Saunders and his team, which he calls "our football family."
The snow, wind and cold that were forecast could work to San Diego's advantage, according to Saunders.
He reasons that the worse the conditions get, the more important defense becomes. The Charger defense has been an asset more than the offense much of the season.
The Chargers worked during the week to have their backs and receivers protect the ball, while stressing the value of knocking it loose from the Broncos.
After little more than a week on the job, Saunders has had very little time to reflect upon the task he inherited. "I guess it's like moving into a new house, and your wife is looking for things in the kitchen. There's stuff all over the place and you don't even know where the frying pans are," he said.
There should be enough heat from the Broncos and their fans to help Saunders and Flick, among others, figure out where the frying pan is.