Defense may win championships, but special teams pave the path toward making postseason upsets possible.
Although the Broncos won the special teams battle in their 38-35 Divisional Round loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January, it wasn’t quite enough to help push the team over the top and help them advance.
That was an exception to the rule though, as Denver committed several crucial blunders late in the game — the Moore whiff, the Manning pick — that undid return specialist Trindon Holliday’s historic performance earlier in the contest.
If the Broncos want to extend their season, then they will need players like Holliday and special team-standout Steven Johnson to step up and be impact players.
Holiday has suffered from a case of fumblitis to many fans dismay this season, which has to be a cause for concern heading into the weekend.
Any big special teams plays for the Chargers — a Holliday fumble or an Eddie Royal kick return — could end up being the kiss of death for the Broncos, especially if it happens late in the game and leaves Manning & Co. with a small window for error.
Let’s see how the Chargers’ special teams match up:
Field goal kicker: Nick Novak
Novak will benefit from kicking in the Mile High air, and is a tremendously reliable field goal kicker; however, the edge here has to go to Matt Prater, who has had an underrated season and will play a key role in the team’s postseason run if it can escape San Diego. With that said, Novak and the rest of the special teams unit have played a crucial part in getting the Chargers to this point in the season and should not be taken lightly.
Punter: Mike Scifres
Similar to Novak, Scifres will benefit from playing on the road, in Denver, this weekend, but it’s hard to assert that he’s the better of the two punters taking the field. He averaged 43.2 yards on 56 punts this season with 30 falling inside the 20 yard line, including two last week against the Bengals. Denver’s Britton Colquitt has had a slightly better season statistically — 65 punts for an average of 44.5 yards with 23 falling inside the 20 — and gets the benefit of playing in his home stadium. Also, hands team players such as David Bruton and Omar Bolden will help protect him and make tackles down the field.
Kick returners: Danny Woodhead, Eddie Royal
Kick returning has to be a wash considering the fact there may not even be an opportunity for either team to take the ball out of the end zone. The air is thin in Denver and that will help even things out, although Holliday has five career kick returns and certainly has a knack for making a big play. Also worth noting is the fact Holiday will be resting on the sideline, while Woodhead and Royal will be used extensively in San Diego’s offensive scheme.
Punt returner: Eddie Royal
Holiday isn’t as dynamic as a punt returner as he is as a kick returner and that’s a fact most fans must come to terms with. In addition to his fumbling problem, he’s made plenty of questionable decisions throughout the year about when to field balls and when to let them go. Not to mention, he’s also on short rope with the possibility of Wes Welker replacing him mid-game. The Chargers don’t have any such questions with their return man, ex-Bronco Eddie Royal, who’s reliable hands, lightening speed and familiarity with the field all pose potential problems. Denver’s special teams have been solid throughout the season, containing and limiting big plays. This would be the wrong time to start a new trend.
Now that the analysis is done, onto the game pick:
Prediction: Broncos 34, Chargers 21
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