The Divisional Playoff matchups are all set and an old familiar foe will be traveling to Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos.
For the third time this season the Broncos and San Diego Chargers will be facing off, but this time the stakes are much higher.
This game will be the rubber match since they’ve each won one of the regular season contests. Denver won in San Diego 28-20 earlier in the year and the Chargers got the victory a few weeks ago in Denver 27-20. As far as a season series goes this one couldn’t be much tighter.
The Broncos loss in the most recent game nearly cost them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the process the San Diego victory spring boarded them on their current 5-game winning streak. Last season it was the Ravens who came into Mile High during the playoffs looking for revenge from a loss a few weeks earlier. This season it’s the Broncos who are out for some revenge against San Diego.
In the loss to the Chargers Denver lost the time of possession by more than 17 minutes, lost the turnover battle, had more penalties, had less sacks, was worse on third downs, had less total yards, and still only lost the game by a mere seven points. Essentially San Diego played a perfect game and completely dominated Denver and the Broncos still had a chance to win it towards the end.
Make no mistake, San Diego earned that victory and will be a very tough out this weekend. They are playing hot football right now and are soaring with confidence (although if you listen to some of the San Diego fans and media it may be a little too much confidence).
But there is almost no chance that San Diego completely dominates every facet of the stat sheet this Sunday like they did the last time out. And if that’s the case there is a good chance the outcome will be different.
For starters the Broncos will be playing at home. It’s true the Chargers just won in Denver, but it’s hard to imagine Denver losing back to back contests at home after going 7-1 there this season, especially to the same team.
Wes Welker will be back after missing the last game against San Diego. Denver’s 2 for 9 third down conversion rate from that game will improve regardless, but with Welker back it will be a certainty.
In the last matchup Knowshon Moreno finished with only 19 rushing yards and the Broncos finished with 18 as a team. I can guarantee you the Broncos will gain more yards than that on the ground this weekend.
Peyton Manning didn’t play poorly in the last matchup, but his 289 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception is not what we’re used to seeing during his record-breaking season. Give San Diego credit for slowing him down last time out, but I like his chances at playing a little better this weekend.
The Chargers have done a great job establishing a game plan that fits their personnel. The look to pound the rock on the ground to lengthen drives and win the time of possession, have quarterback Philip Rivers convert some third downs and make a few big plays down the field, and hopefully force some turnovers on defense.
To their credit they have done a great job executing this game plan at times this season. They took care of the Indianapolis Colts, the Broncos, and the Bengals yesterday with almost identical game plans. Rivers only threw the ball 16 times against Cincinnati and 20 times in the victory over Denver. But he was incredibly efficient with the limited opportunities and it went a long way in both outcomes.
It’s a tried and true method, but it’s no slam dunk either. They have failed to execute it several times this season and have found themselves on the losing side of seven games.
The key to beating the Chargers game plan is stopping the run, getting some explosive plays and some big scores early (think the long Julius Thomas touchdown in the first matchup with the Chargers), and/or converting your own third downs to keep the time of possession in check. And a team doesn’t have to do all of those things to have a chance to beat the Chargers. They just can’t fail at all of them.
If Denver can accomplish these things it certainly won’t guarantee victory, but it will increase their chances dramatically.
This is the NFL so pretty much every team has a decent chance to win every game, especially at this point of the playoffs. So of course the Chargers could pull it out again in Denver. But I just don’t see the script going perfectly for San Diego this time around. If nothing else the laws of probability say so. And if that comes to fruition Denver has a great chance to get some revenge on San Diego and move forward in the playoffs.
At this point the Broncos just have to find a way to survive and advance.