San Diego Chargers (4 – 11)
Denver Broncos (11 – 4)
The playoffs really started last week for the Denver Broncos and they faced the first test well, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime. After a first half that featured the Bengals going on not one but two improbably long drives eating up over 7 minutes 30 seconds each, Denver settled in on both sides of the ball and had the look of a team that can beat anyone in the NFL.
By beating the Bengals, the Broncos secured a playoff spot. This Sunday, they have the opportunity to clinch the AFC West for the fifth consecutive year (something they’ve never done in their history) and an outside chance for the Top Seed in the AFC if the Patriots slip up at Miami.
The Chargers, on the other hand, have very little to play for except professional pride and to be a spoiler. Rumors are their coach is about to be fired, they are fighting with one of their best players and they have seen things go from bad to worse to deadly this year.
None of this means they will lay down for the Broncos. Division games are always tough.
KEY MATCH UP
Can the Broncos run? That’s the question. Though San Diego has been wildly inconsistent against the ground game this year, Denver’s entire offense is keyed on their ability to run the football. As the real playoffs open next week, Denver will look to establish a solid running game that can propel them to wins in January.
It starts here. Look for C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to have big games Sunday.
Peyton Manning is the number two quarterback for the Broncos this week. That’s hard to believe. He’s banged up but trying to contribute any way he can. This week, his contribution will be in uniform unlike the previous six weeks when he’s been in street clothes. Brock Osweiler is not in terrific physical condition himself and I wouldn’t ruling out seeing Manning in this game this Sunday.
Nice to have a five-time NFL MVP as your backup. If Manning does see action, one of two things will have happened: first, the score in the game will have gotten out-of-hand one direction or the other or, second, Osweiler has been injured. Let’s hope, if 18 does see the field, it’s because the Broncos are up big in the second half and want to see how Manning does with real game-time conditions following his lay off.
I suppose the third option that gets Manning in the game is that Osweiler is ineffective, but, given what 17 has shown in the last few weeks as starter, I don’t think that one is going to happen.
Denver wants this one and needs this one. San Diego, despite playing behind the ever passionate and fiery Phillip Rivers, will have a hard time getting up for a game that stands between them and the golf course. Denver is the better team. Denver has the stronger motivation. Denver should win this one big.
HOWEVER, it is a division game and strange things can happen in division games if teams aren’t careful. Barring an untimely turnover or a player on the San Diego side simply taking things over with an epic performance, Denver should prevail.