San Diego Chargers fans have been shoved through the ringer over the first five weeks of the season.
In blowing double-digit leads to the Chiefs and Saints -- and crumbling last Sunday against the upstart Raiders -- the Bolts find themselves glued to an ugly statistical footnote: San Diego is 1-2 in games this season where they held a 13-plus point lead, while the rest of the NFL is 36-0 in such tilts.
You can point to the litany of injuries or blame giggling kicker Josh Lambo if you must, but that won't change the task ahead: knocking off pass-rushing whirlwind Von Miller and the world-champion Broncos on a short week.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy is under pressure to deliver a victory and halt an ugly 10-game skid to AFC West opponents, the NFL's longest divisional losing streak.
Here's what we'll be watching for as the Broncos (4-1) and Chargers (1-4) clash on Thursday Night Football, set to air on both CBS and NFL Network plus you can live stream it on Twitter:
- The Denver Broncos won't have coach Gary Kubiak in the fold -- he's been sidelined by a "complex migraine condition" -- but they do expect starting quarterback Trevor Siemian to return after missing Week 5 with a non-throwing shoulder injury. Interim coach Joe DeCamillas also hopes Donald Stephenson (calf) will return at right tackle, which would alleviate two big issues from last week's loss to the Falcons. Siemian, today, is a much safer choice under center than Lynch, who unfurled a rash of off-target lobs and dangerous downfield darts against Atlanta. The athletic-but-raw rookie wasn't helped by the combination of Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield, who doubled as open barn doors at right tackle. The wayward duo allowed Vic Beasley and the Falcons to do their best impression of the 1986 Giants, sacking Lynch six times and knocking him around from wire to wire.
- The Chargers have lost four games by a combined 14 points this season, making them just the fifth team since 1940 to start 1-4 with a point differential of 10-plus or better. Their ability to score points is no fluke, as San Diego has ripped through secondaries with a highly frisky air attack. Despite losing weapons Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson and Danny Woodhead, the Bolts are one of just two NFL teams averaging 30-plus points per game. The Falcons -- who knocked off the Broncos last week -- are the other, but these are vastly different attacks. While Atlanta piled up yardage and points by matching their speedy, pass-catching backs against Denver's inside linebackers, the Chargers don't have the bodies to duplicate that game plan. San Diego's offense is based around occasional big plays from boom-or-bust runner Melvin Gordon and a vertical passing game that has leaned heavily on three-wideout sets all year. That won't change on Thursday night.
- The Broncos hoped to run the ball early against Atlanta, but the game script took them elsewhere with C.J. Anderson and rookie Devontae Booker combining for just 64 yards. Ground yardage won't be easy against a Chargers defense allowing an eighth-best 83.4 yards per game without a single team topping the 100-yard rushing mark through Week 5. That should lead to Siemian picking away at San Diego's 28th-ranked pass defense with lobs to Emmanuel Sanders (who leads the team in targets and receptions) and Demaryius Thomas, who has a touchdown catch in three straight games for the first time since 2014.
- San Diego will attempt to expose Denver over the middle with Antonio Gates, the talented tight end who returned to action last week and forms an interesting duo with Hunter Henry, the productive rookie who has posted 60-plus yards in each of his last three games. Also keep an eye on Tyrell Williams, the second-year receiver who exploded for 117 yards last Sunday against Oakland. When Rivers isn't targeting Williams, expect at least two or three home-run shots to deep threat Travis Benjamin, who leads the Chargers with 78.8 yards per game through the air.
- Denver's defense needs no introduction. After guiding the Broncos to a Super Bowl title last February, the Von Miller-led unit has not skipped a beat, allowing fewer points per game and passing yards per tilt in 2016 with a whopping 3.8 sacks per outing. While Atlanta's Matt Ryan carved them up, Denver has been a nightmare for passers, holding the previous seven quarterbacks faced (including the playoffs) to a 59.1 rating. San Diego must get creative against cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris and protect the ball after committing three-plus turnovers in three straight losses. It's a desirable setup for Miller, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate whose 6.5 sacks currently rank second in the NFL.
- The Bolts could use a fast start from Gordon. The second-year back leads the NFL with seven touchdowns, but he's also tied atop the league with eight fumbles over the past two seasons. After opening strong, Gordon has been held to just 46.7 yards per game since Week 3 -- at a dismal 2.8 yards per carry -- which raises questions about his status as a featured workhorse. With Woodhead and Branden Oliver sidelined, though, this is Gordon's operation. The time is now to show a national audience what he can do.
- Do yourself a favor and stay focused on Chargers first-round pass-rusher Joey Bosa. With his annoying holdout and hamstring injury in the rear-view mirror, the No. 3 overall pick recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss in Sunday's debut, showing incredible burst and aggression on limited snaps. Bosa will see a bigger workload Thursday and boasts the raw ability to impact this game from end to end. His stunning debut offers a dose of hope for a Chargers team off to a hyper-rocky start.