For the first time ever, these two bitter division rivals will face one another in the postseason, doing so appropriately in a season in which they split the regular season matchups, with each team winning on the other’s home field. Let’s take a closer look at round 3 between the Chargers and the Broncos.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Rarely was there a doubt this season that the Broncos would end up being the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Despite a couple hiccups, Denver finished 13-3 and will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As for the Chargers, they won their final four games of the regular season in must-win situations and they carried that mentality into Cincinnati last week and came out with a convincing win after a dominating performance in the 2nd half.
SAN DIEGO OFFENSE VS. DENVER DEFENSE
The Chargers beat the Broncos back in week 15 because they were able to run the ball effectively and control the clock, keeping Peyton Manning and the Denver offense off the field, and that’s something the Broncos need to be aware of repeating itself this week. Outside of his 23-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter, San Diego running back Ryan Matthews rarely broke off a big run, but he consistently got positive yards with each rush attempt, which moved the ball down field and kept the Denver pass rush at bay. Matthews and the Chargers need to do their best to repeat that performance if they expect to knock off the Broncos in Denver for the second time this season. As well as Philip Rivers has played this season, San Diego does not want him in a shootout with Manning, as the Chargers have a .500 record when Rivers attempts more than 30 passes in a game, so they need to make sure they stay balanced on offense. Moreover, even without Von Miller on the field for the Broncos, San Diego does not want to give the Denver pass rush a chance to pin their ears back and come after Rivers, if that starts to happen the Chargers will be in trouble. But the Broncos need to make a commitment towards stopping the run so that they aren’t dominated in time of possession, even if it means relying on their banged-up secondary to contain Rivers and the San Diego skill players.
DENVER OFFENSE VS. SAN DIEGO DEFENSE
In the last meeting between these two teams, the Broncos had the ball for just 21 minutes but still managed to score 20 points, which says all you need to know about the Denver offense this season. The Broncos have been historically good this season, and keeping them off the field is just about the only way they’ve been stopped this season. Wes Welker has been cleared to play, which means he will rejoin the lineup alongside Demaryius Thomas, who is heading to the Pro Bowl, Eric Decker, who came on strong late in the season, and tight end Julius Thomas, who is also heading to the Pro Bowl. Of course, it’s not all about Manning and the passing game, as the Broncos stay balanced with running back Knowshon Moreno, who’s had a great season and has been an underrated part of the Denver offense. San Diego’s best hope for defending the Broncos would be to put pressure on Manning, as their pass rush was a big part of their 2nd half dominance over the Bengals last week. However, the Denver offensive line has held up well this season amidst injuries, Manning is great at getting rid of the ball quickly, and blitzing the Broncos leads to one-on-one matchups with their receivers, which can be a problem, putting the San Diego defense between a rock and a hard place. If the pass rush is effective, the Chargers will have a chance to keep the Denver offense from blowing them out; otherwise, the Broncos could start clicking on offense and be tough to stop.
To San Diego’s credit, they’ve played two good games against the Broncos this season, and they’ve made a great run by winning their last five games and reaching the second weekend of the playoffs. However, this is where their magical run comes to an end. It’s unrealistic to think that the Chargers can control the clock the way they did in week 15. That game was also played on a short week, while this time around Manning and the Broncos have had an extra week to prepare, which should make a difference. The Chargers will play well and put up a fight once again, but the Broncos will eventually be too much for them. Denver 38, San Diego 21.