October 21, 2014

There can't be many times in NFL history that the pregame focus will be on a backup quarterback.

That'll be the case Sunday as the playoff-bound Denver Broncos try to clinch the AFC West crown behind Brock Osweiler, whose backup will be Peyton Manning for this home matchup with the San Diego Chargers.

Manning will finally be back in uniform after missing the last six games because of a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He returned to practice Wednesday after he last worked out with his teammates on Dec. 17, doing 7-on-7 drills and running the scout team before a setback that week delayed his recovery.

Wednesday marked Manning's first full practice since Nov. 13.

''I'm happy to be more of a part of it now than just being in street clothes and kind of quarantined in the indoor facility and working out on my own,'' he said.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Manning will get some work with the starters but Osweiler will get the bulk of it this week. Manning has never served as a backup in his NFL career.

"He (Manning) just needs to get back in the groove with the action with the team," Kubiak said.

Manning, who still leads the NFL with 17 interceptions in nine games, also once again addressed Al Jazeera's report last weekend that suggested he obtained HGH through his wife from an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic where he received post-operative treatment in 2011.

''The report wasn't true Sunday. It's not true today and it won't ever be true,'' Manning said. ''And I'm still angry about it."

One reason Manning probably isn't starting is because Osweiler has thrown for eight TDs to three interceptions in his six-game stint as the starter. Osweiler completed 27 of 39 passes for 299 yards with one TD to guide the Broncos (11-4) to their critical 20-17 overtime victory over AFC North champion Cincinnati on Monday.

He didn't sound concerned that a five-time league MVP will be carrying a clipboard on the Denver sideline.

''I'm not really going to think about who the backup is this week,'' Osweiler said. ''My focus is 100 percent on the Chargers defense and doing whatever I can to prepare to go win a football game."

Osweiler's heroics moved Denver one win away from not only the division title but also a first-round bye, which would give Manning another week to get ready.

The Broncos will clinch the division with a victory or a loss by Kansas City to Oakland. They must win to gain the first-round bye unless the Chiefs and Bengals both lose Sunday.

Denver also still has a shot at the AFC's top seed, needing a win and New England to lose at Miami.

Osweiler has found some chemistry with Owen Daniels, who had five catches for 70 yards last week after the quarterback didn't target Vernon Davis. He'll also look to find Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the 10th tandem in Denver history to each amass 1,000 yards.

One concern is linebacker Brandon Marshall's ankle injury from Monday. Marshall, who has a team-high 101 total tackles for a top-rated defense yielding an average of 280.9 yards, did not practice Wednesday.

Marshall will play if he is available since the Broncos are intent on winning the division and not having to settle for a wild-card berth.

"We're all in on San Diego," Kubiak said. "We need to win this football game and it's a big game for our team and so we'll approach it that away."

The Chargers (4-11) are 1-6 on the road and one of three winless teams in division play. The story surrounding them is mostly about whether the franchise will stay put in the city as opposed to anything on the field.

San Diego, which has not played since last Thursday's 23-20 overtime loss at Oakland, will finish with its worst record since going 4-12 in 2003. This is its second losing season in the last 12.

"Shoot, we'd like to finish it with a win," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Shoot, it's been a tough year, to say the least, (but) have a chance to go to Denver and hopefully win our first division game and finish the season with a win (that) will send us into reload and offseason mode in a decent mood."

Rivers needs 239 yards passing to break the team's single-season mark held by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, who threw for 4,802 yards in 1981.

The Chargers have lost eight of their last nine to the Broncos, including one playoff defeat and a 17-3 loss Dec. 6. In that defensive battle, Osweiler threw for 166 yards - his lowest total as a starter - while Rivers was sacked four times and had a season-low 57.1 passer rating.

Speculation is also swirling around the status of third-year San Diego coach Mike McCoy, Manning's former offensive coordinator with the Broncos. The Chargers insist they will be motivated.

"In my mind, it's let's not let Denver play another home game this year," Rivers said. "Let's make this be their last home game, let's find a way to do that. We know obviously what the game means to them and what the atmosphere is going to be like."

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