Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

NFL divisional playoff preview: Division foes Chargers, Broncos face off in must-win scenario (6 items)

By Mitch Kunzler
For the Deseret News

Jan. 11, 2014

The final playoff game of this weekend will take place on Sunday, with the San Diego Chargers facing off against the Denver Broncos. Both teams play in the same division, the AFC West, and have gotten to know each other very well.

While the Broncos have been dominant all year long, the Chargers were lucky to sneak into the playoffs. With a ton at stake for both teams, the matchup has the makings of an instant classic.

To get a good idea of what type of action will take place on Sunday, it is important to look at the type of season each team has had and things to watch for in the matchup.

You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.

1 of 6. Game information

When: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 2:40 p.m. MST

Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver

TV coverage: CBS

2 of 6. The Chargers' journey

The Chargers have done surprisingly well in the AFC West Division, one that is among the toughest divisions in the NFL. With both the Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs having played elite football this year, the Chargers have held their ground and hung with them.

While losses to the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders in the first half of the season were discouraging, the Chargers managed to snatch up some impressive wins as well, including against the Philadelphia Eagles, Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and Chiefs, all of which made the playoffs.

With quarterback Philip Rivers under center, the Chargers have a chance in every game because of their ability to move the ball and score. San Diego has the fourth-best passing offense in the NFL, averaging 270.5 yards per game, thanks to Rivers, who led the league in completion percentage at 69.5 percent.

San Diego ended the season on a four-game win streak with a 9-7 record, which matched it up against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bengals hadn't lost at home all season long, and with the Chargers barely making the playoffs in the first place, Cincinnati was heavily favored going into the game. But that didn't stop the Chargers from making a statement.

The Chargers forced four turnovers in the game and moved the ball effortlessly on offense to set the tone of the rest of the game. The Bengals were caught off guard, and by the time the clock hit zero, the Chargers had beaten Cincinnati 27-10, thanks to 196 rushing yards, courtesy of running back trio Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews.


3 of 6. The Broncos' journey

This season has been a record-breaking one for quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense, and one that has made Denver a popular Super Bowl pick all season.

To start off the season, former New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker signed a two-year contract with the Broncos, which added to their already elite offense. Other than Welker, the Broncos have Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas as targets for Manning, making one of the most formidable passing offenses in the history of the game.

Not only was the Broncos' passing offense dominant, but their rushing attack was dangerous as well. Running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards for the season with 10 touchdowns, completing Denver's offense as the two-headed monster that it has been all season.

The Broncos led the NFL in total offense, with 457.3 yards per game, and set the league's single-season record in total points scored with 596.

Manning shattered nearly every available record this season in what will go down in history as one of the greatest seasons ever by an NFL quarterback. Manning set NFL records in passing yards in a season (5,477), touchdown passes in a season (55) and most games with four or more touchdown passes (8).

The Broncos' defense is the only thing that could slightly be considered a weakness, with the injury bug biting them during the season. Even then, though, the Broncos were tied for seventh in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing only 101.6 yards per game.

This season has been nothing short of spectacular for the Broncos as they ended with a 13-3 record, earning the top playoff seed in the AFC.


4 of 6. Previous matchups

As the Broncos and Chargers are in the same division, they play each other twice every year. And as division rivals, their matchups tend to be some of the most competitive of the season.

First matchup

In the first matchup of the year, the Broncos headed to San Diego to play the Chargers. Denver scored quickly and early, scoring 21 points in the first half. The Broncos' defense got to Rivers quite a bit, sacking him four times during the game.

Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns in the game, finding Demaryius Thomas for three of the scores.

By the time the Chargers began their comeback, it was too late. The Chargers scored 14 points in the second half but lost the game 28-20.

Second matchup

The second matchup of the year was held in Denver, with the Broncos hosting the Chargers. At the end of the first quarter, it seemed that the Broncos were going to run away with another victory, as they led 10-3.

But the Chargers scored 21 unanswered points and took the lead. Mathews rushed for 127 yards in the game with a touchdown, and Rivers threw for two touchdowns as well.

Although Manning threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns, his costly interception with 5:40 left in the game ended up being the deciding factor as the Broncos lost 27-20.


5 of 6. What to watch for

The past three Super Bowl winners (Ravens, Giants, Packers) were lower seeded teams that got hot at the right time. The Chargers are in a good position to do just that, as they are currently riding a five-game win streak.

San Diego will likely look to run the ball constantly in this game in hopes of eating up the clock and keep the Broncos' offense off the field.

Denver's Manning is 9-11 in playoff games in his career and has lost his last three playoff games against San Diego. Rivers, on the other hand, is 6-2 all-time in Denver.

The Chargers have the 23rd ranked total defense in the NFL, which doesn't bode well, as they face the best offense in the league. Their only hope defensively is to get pressure on Manning.