You are using an old web browser. Such browsers do not support modern web technologies and do not offer proper security. Please update your browser or download one of the others suggested for free.
Mozilla Firefox |
Google Chrome |
Internet Explorer |
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos get a chance to avenge their only home loss when they host the sixth-seeded San Diego Chargers in the AFC divisional round on Sunday. Manning guided Denver to the top seed behind a record-setting offense that surpassed 600 points for the first time in league history. The Broncos were held under 30 points only three times and two of them came against the Chargers, who lost a 28-20 decision in San Diego before pulling out a 27-20 win in Denver on Dec. 12.
Manning set league single-season records for touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477) but he is trying to end a streak of three straight postseason defeats, including a 38-35 loss in double overtime last season when the Broncos were also the No. 1 seed. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is 6-2 in his career in Denver and is relishing the matchup with Manning. "I've always appreciated and look forward to, as a fan of his growing up, to go against a Peyton Manning-led team," Rivers said. "It's going to be awesome."
TV: 4:40 p.m., CBS.
LINE: The Broncos opened -10 and are now -8.5. The total opened 54.5 and is down to 54.
WEATHER: Temperatures will be in the high-30s with a 13 percent chance of snow. Wind will blow across the field at 20 mph.
ABOUT THE CHARGERS (10-7): San Diego ran its winning streak to five games with a 27-10 win at No. 3 seed Cincinnati last weekend, but enter Sunday's matchup with major concerns about running back Ryan Mathews' availability. Mathews averaged 118.3 yards in the final four games of the regular season, including 127 in the victory over the Broncos that helped the Chargers control the ball for more than 38 minutes, but he aggravated an ankle injury in the third quarter last week and did not return. Rivers put up pedestrian numbers against the Bengals (12-of-16, 128 yards, 1 TD), but he completed a league-high 69.5 percent of his passes during the regular season. San Diego's defense ranked 29th in passing yards allowed (258.7 yards) but limited opponents to an average of 16.3 points over the last six games.
Chargers outlook: The Chargers’ offense followed a logical blueprint in the first two meetings with the Broncos, and it executed that plan well. In each matchup, San Diego possessed the ball for more than 38 minutes. Overall, the Chargers put together six drives of five minutes or longer in the first two meetings.
In the December upset, the Chargers took the air out of the ball, with quarterback Philip Rivers attempting just 20 passes. Tailback Ryan Mathews was the focal point of the offense, racking up 127 yards and a TD on 29 carries in one of the finest performances of his career, given the stakes.
Whether Mathews can carry that heavy a workload in the rematch is in question. Mathews has fought through an ankle injury in recent weeks; he had just one second-half carry in the win vs. Cincinnati. Look for Danny Woodhead to get a good deal of carries, with Ronnie Brown another option off the bench.
Woodhead (76 catches) is one of Rivers’ primary targets, with tight end Antonio Gates and wideout Keenan Allen the other major threats. Wide receivers Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown also have big-play ability.
Rivers’ 10th NFL season has been one of his best. He throws with outstanding touch and anticipation. On the season, he has completed nearly 70 percent of his attempts, and he has been intercepted on just two percent of his passes. He can carry this offense if needed, and more passing could be in order in the rematch with the Broncos.
The Broncos’ defense is talent-laden, but it hasn’t been as stout as a season ago. Denver surrendered the sixth-most passing yards in the regular season and also allowed 29 TD passes. The Broncos were solid vs. the run, but that didn’t scare the Chargers out of a ground-focused attack in the December meeting.
Broncos outlook: This is the Broncos’ third shot at a less-than-formidable Chargers defense. In theory, Denver’s would appear to have a pretty big edge.
In two starts against the Chargers this season, Peyton Manning has completed 52-of-77 passes for 619 yards with six TDs and just one interception. He has started fast in each of the two games, throwing a TD on the opening drive both times.
Manning, who broke single-season passing yardage (5,477) and passing touchdown (54) records in 2013, has thrown four touchdowns or more in nine of 16 starts, and he’s thrown at least one more touchdown than interception in every game this season.
In the Broncos’ 28-20 win at San Diego on November 11, the Broncos seized control with three Manning TD passes to wideout Demaryius Thomas in a 10:04 span encompassing the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter. However, in the rematch, the Chargers’ defense was outstanding in the middle of the game, forcing four punts and holding the Broncos scoreless in the second and third quarters. Manning’s ability to adjust to opposing defenses is legendary. The Chargers can’t show the same looks this time and expect the Broncos’ offense to be flustered.
There’s also the matter of how the Chargers will match up with the Broncos’ many receiving threats. Star slot receiver Wes Welker, who missed the December meeting, is back in the lineup. Thomas (92 catches, 1,430 yards, 14 TDs) is the top threat outside, with Eric Decker also to be respected. Tight end Julius Thomas is a tough cover in his own right; he scored a 74-yard touchdown in the first meeting with San Diego.
The Broncos haven’t gotten much of a running game going in the two matchups with San Diego. Veteran Knowshon Moreno is a dependable grinder who catches the ball well. Rookie Montee Ball has more upside than Moreno but has lost three fumbles.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (13-3): Wide receiver Wes Welker returns to the lineup after missing the past two games with a concussion, giving Manning his full array of weapons - Denver is the only team in history to have five players score at least 10 touchdowns. Manning threw for 330 yards and four TDs - three to Demaryius Thomas - in the first matchup with the Chargers, but he was held shut down after scoring on the opening possession of the second half. Eric Decker established career highs in yards (1,288) and receptions (87) while tight end Julius Thomas hauled in 12 scoring passes, including a 74-yarder at San Diego. Knowshon Moreno yielded more playing time to rookie running back Montee Ball down the stretch, but the onus will be on a defense that allowed 24.9 points and 254.4 passing yards per game.