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The San Diego Chargers have become the hot team in the 2014 NFL playoffs. They strolled into Cincinnati as the biggest underdogs of the Wild Card weekend and emerged as big winners eliminating the Bengals from the post season. Now they head to Denver to take on the top seeded Broncos. Read Full Preview Here
Check back all week as this thread will be updated on a regular basis with information on this game and a free pick by gameday!
Chargers at Broncos minus-10.5: This is the last game on next weekend's schedule but was posted at the same time as the Colts-Patriots game. BetOnline opened minus-9 while the LVH went with 10.5. CRIS and the Greek split the difference at 10 (Pinnacle went with 10.5 and heavy juice on the dog and that lasted less than a minute). It was looking like 10 would be the consensus number, but the William Hill books in Nevada went with 9.5 and the LVH went there at 6:05 p.m., so it's looking like if you like the Chargers (which I do) that you might want to lock in the plus-10 in case it disappears. It'll remain to be seen if the public bets this back higher later in the week. The over/under has been bet down a little and the consensus was 54.5 as of late Sunday night.
Wes Welker won’t be sneaking under the radar when the San Diego Chargers travel to Denver to face the Broncos in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.
“He’s one of the best slot receivers of all time,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “So his production, wherever he’s been, speaks for itself. So you’ve got to know where he is every play.”
Welker did not play in San Diego’s 27-20 win at Denver on Dec. 12 last year because of lingering concussion symptoms. As a precaution, the Broncos also held out Welker for the last two games of the regular season.
However, Welker practiced for the Broncos the past two weeks and is expected to play on Sunday.
Even though he missed three games this year, Welker has put up good numbers in his first season with the Broncos. Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In the first contest against the Chargers in San Diego, Welker finished with three receptions for 21 yards in a 28-20 Denver victory on Nov. 10.
“Wes has been a major contributor for us all season long,” Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said. “I thought our guys did a good job of stepping up by committee while he was out. You never know whose number is going to be called in a playoff game. You never know what happens, everybody’s got to be alert. I know Wes is excited to get back out there and start playing.”
The Chargers will use their own version of Wes Welker in practice to simulate the cat-quick receiver’s skill set in practice squad player Dan DePalma.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Verona, N.J., native returned to the Chargers six weeks ago. DePalma was placed on injured reserve during training camp with a shoulder issue and received an injury settlement, allowing him to return this season.
DePalma also played the role of Welker for the New York Giants’ scout squad during the team’s Super Bowl title run two years ago.
“It’s just film study, knowing his movements and the way he runs his routes, depths and getting all that stuff right,” DePalma said. “Every little thing counts for a defense, especially when it comes down to technique and every play.”
Safety Eric Weddle said the Chargers will use a couple of different guys on Welker this weekend.
“That’s going to be a challenge for us,” Weddle said. “He didn’t play the second game there, and a lot of people forget about that. So that’s another element that we have to deal with. But we’re excited about it. We want to go now.”
A big part of playing football is the mental aspect of the game. Players are valued not only for their physical prowess but also their mental toughness. How do they react to adversity? How do they handle success? How do they rebound from defeat? It is all a part of the game.
Denver will be playing the San Diego Chargers on Sunday in a divisional-round matchup, but the Broncos also will be trying to slay the albatross that has hung over the franchise since they lost at home to Baltimore 38-35 in double overtime a year ago.
This Broncos team, like that one, finished the regular season 13-3. This Broncos team, like that one, won the AFC West. This Broncos team, like that one, earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This Broncos team, like that one, watched wild-card weekend from home.
And yet that Broncos team lost to a Ravens team that had limped into the playoffs, beat Indianapolis in a wild-card game the week before and was a 9½-point underdog against Denver. If that Broncos team had made one more defensive stop, just one more play, it would have won the game. It would have advanced. Then, who knows what would have happened?
The narrative changed when Jacoby Jones sprinted down the right sideline behind Broncos defensive back Tony Carter, who eased up, and caught the bomb thrown by Joe Flacco. It changed when Denver safety Rahim Moore leaped into the air and then tried to knock the ball out of Jones' hands, to no avail. It changed when Jones danced into the end zone, tying the game with less than a minute to play.
It is all still there, still fresh, no matter how sick the Broncos are of talking about it.
That's why this first playoff game is so dangerous. You can talk forever about the matchups, about Denver's so-called "five-10" club -- the five players who scored 10 or more touchdowns apiece this season -- about the record setting offense and about Peyton Manning's 55 touchdown passes. But this game could boil down to mental toughness, to who breaks mentally and who doesn't.
Denver will want to push the tempo early. It will want to get San Diego's defense on its heels and make the Chargers play from behind. It will want to turn San Diego into more of a one-dimensional offense, where Philip Rivers must throw and throw and throw to get the Chargers back in the game. That would aid a Denver defense that is playing without its top two pass-rushers from last season, Elvis Dumervil (now with the Ravens) and Von Miller (out for the season with an injury), and finished this season 19th in total yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed.
San Diego will want to replicate what it did in both regular-season meetings with the Broncos this season: control the clock. A lot of teams talk about how the best defense against Manning and all his weapons -- Demaryius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker make up the "five-10" club -- is a ball-controlling offense. Not a lot of teams can do it.
The Chargers did. Twice. And it wasn't even close.
In Week 10, San Diego lost to Denver 28-20 but kept the game close by dominating time of possession 38:03 to 21:57. On a Thursday night in Week 15, it was a similar story. The Chargers controlled the clock for 38 minutes, 49 seconds, and won 27-20. It was the fewest points the Broncos scored all season. Denver's offense can't score and dominate when it's standing on the sideline.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy and defensive coordinator John Pagano know this. McCoy worked with Manning his first season in Denver. He knows what Manning likes to do, and what he doesn't.
And McCoy also knows that if the Chargers can just hang in there and make a game of it into the second half, doubt could creep into the Broncos' minds. If the game is close in the third quarter and into the fourth, Denver could get tight. It is human nature. The mental part of the game is just as big as the physical.
For all of Manning's greatness, the prevailing theory among defensive coaches is that he often stumbles in the playoffs because he overthinks everything. He dissects everything. He doesn't just go out and let it rip.
Maybe that's right. Maybe it's not. But it speaks to the mental part of the game. And Manning knows the knock on him. He knows his postseason record does not reflect his regular-season greatness.
He wants to change that. He burns for another Super Bowl title.
The Broncos should roll over the Chargers. They should be able to do what Denver did in 1997 a year after it finished the regular season 13-3 but, coming off a bye, lost a playoff game to Jacksonville. They should be able to march to the Super Bowl and win it. They have the talent.
But this game is about more than having talented players. They have to be mentally strong, too. On Sunday, we will find out how mentally tough the Broncos really are.
Ryan Mathews gingerly made his way to the locker room wearing a brace on his left ankle as he left the field at the San Diego Chargers' practice on Friday.
Mathews did not practice at all this week due to a balky ankle, and is listed as questionable on San Diego's injury report for Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos. The management of Mathews' injury by San Diego's training staff has been different than in previous two weeks, when he was a limited participant on Friday before playing on Sunday.
The change in routine seems to indicate that Mathews' ankle has gotten worse over the past few weeks. Mathews ran the ball just one time in the second half of his team's 27-10 AFC wild card win against the Bengals last week, finishing with 52 yards on 13 carries.
Mathews said the extra day of rest should help get him ready, but he ultimately does not know if he will be cleared to face the Broncos.
"The more rest you get, the better everything gets," he said. "It is only a week, so I'm just going to do what I can." Mathews said he's been out watching the tam portion of practice so he can get the mental reps on his San Diego's game plan for Denver this week.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers says he expects Mathews to do his best to get onto the field this weekend.
"I'm not making predictions because I don't know where stands, honestly right now," Rivers said. "But he's going to do all he can to play -- to give himself the best chance to play four quarters. But you just never know how things are going to play out. But Danny (Woodhead) and Ronnie (Brown) are ready if they're needed more than usual."
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his worst NFL game against the Carolina Panthers two months ago.
But that might not be what most concerns the San Francisco 49ers heading into their divisional playoff game at Carolina on Sunday. The game against the Panthers was just part of the problem. Kaepernick struggled against the league's better defenses in general throughout the 2013 regular season.
Against the teams ranked in the top half of the NFL in Opponent Total QBR, Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 3-4 record. Against the bottom half, Kaepernick and the 49ers were 9-0.
He threw 18 touchdowns and no interceptions to the bottom teams, while he threw seven touchdowns and all eight of his interceptions in the seven games against top-notch opponents. His total QBR against the porous defenses was a whopping 91.2 -- the best in the NFL. Against the best defensive competition his Total QBR was 31.2, which was 24th in the league.
What does this all mean? There are many variables and not all of the reasons for the poor play are on Kaepernick. Still, there is no doubt going into this game, he does have some improving to do against elite defenses.