CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4) – With just three games left in the regular season, the Denver Broncos can clinch the AFC West and at least one home playoff game with a win at San Diego on Sunday.

But if you ask Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the playoffs are already here.

“It’s playoffs right now. In the month of December, it’s always playoffs,” he said on Thursday Night Football Blitz.

Against the 8-5 Chargers, they’re playing a team that currently holds the second wild card slot. But they’re mixed in among two other 8-5 teams — Pittsburgh and Baltimore — and five 7-6 squads. A loss to the Broncos would not only end their slimming hopes of winning the division, it’d seriously blow their playoff chances.

“If they lose another game, their playoffs dreams are probably over,” Sanders said.

At 10-3, the Broncos’ outlook is a bit different. With a victory, they also keep pace with the New England Patriots and a shot at home field advantage, should the Patriots slip up in their remaining three games.

“We got a lot at stake, too,” Sanders said. “We got to go out to San Diego and handle business.”

Part of that business is facing Philip Rivers again.

Always a thorn in the Broncos’ side, the Chargers quarterback has quietly built a solid year with 26 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions to lead the league’s 12th-rated passing attack.

“I love his competitive nature, his feistiness,” Broncos safety Rahim Moore said on the Blitz. “I believe that he’s going to be a future Hall of Fame quarterback. He can throw for 400 yards if you don’t contain him and you don’t do the right things on the back end. He’s very smart. So this weekend it’s going to be a test tough for us.”

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates will add to the puzzle. The 34-year-old Gates has also had a decent year, catching 52 balls for 608 yards and nine touchdowns. Moore said Broncos defensive backs just have to acknowledge he’s going to make plays.

In the Broncos’ 35-21 win over the Chargers on Oct. 23, Gates caught five passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.

“Sometimes you have to double him,” Moore said. “He knows the game so well you have to try to contest every throw. He’s going to make his plays. At the same time, if he makes five plays, (you have to) at least make five, too. You have to really challenge this guy. Just swarm him. He’s getting a lot older, but his quickness is still there. His smarts and his route-running is still there.”

On the other side of the ball, Sanders said the Broncos face a tough task in safety Eric Weddle:

“I haven’t played against him in two or three years, but he’s a ball hawk. He reminds me a lot of a guy I that played with by the name of Troy Polamalu. He’s always around the ball.”

The Chargers are also healthier a month and a half later.

“It’s not going to be as easy as we had it last time that we played against these guys. We have to bring our A game,” Sanders said.

It was a bit of a breeze for Sanders, however. He scored three touchdowns on nine catches and 120 yards, including a 31-yarder.

The key, Sanders said, was the Chargers’ unfamiliarity with him.

“I remember Adams Gase, our offensive coordinator, telling me that I could potentially be the difference-maker because they played against the San Diego Chargers so many games. They’ve played against Demaryius (Thomas). They’re used to Wes (Welker). But I was the guy they really hadn’t had the opportunity to go against,” he said.

The Broncos are getting healthier, too.

“The good thing about this season is — and I don’t want to jinx it — we don’t have any major, major injuries,” Sanders said.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan — who’s been out most of the season — is likely to play.

He said Trevathan has impressed in practice.

“He’s flying around like he never missed a day. He’s fully healthy,” he said. “The other day, we were in walkthroughs, and he went full speed.”

Receiver Demaryius Thomas, who tweaked an ankle in practice a week ago and wasn’t a factor against Buffalo last week, has improved. And tight end Julius Thomas, who was active against Buffalo but didn’t play, could return to the field. The Broncos practiced without pads on Wednesday.

“Everybody’s banged up,” Moore said. “It’s the NFL.”

– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com

Watch more video with Emmanuel Sanders and Rahim Moore in the Thursday Night Football Blitz section.

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