Coming into the 2012 season, the AFC West looked wide-open. But with almost six weeks in the books, the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs have taken a backseat. And the winner of tonight’s game will capture possession of first place in the division.
While there have been plenty of surprises so far this season, this game could be played very evenly throughout. Whatever advantage Denver has on the stat sheet should be negated by San Diego’s home crowd.
The Broncos enter tonight’s game with the league’s sixth best offense, averaging 388.4 yards per game. Their 27 points per game is good for eighth as well.
Peyton Manning is proving that the year off has had little effect on his ability to lead a team. While some have questioned his overall arm strength, the cerebral quarterback is balancing that out by spreading the ball around to his many options.
The Chargers have benefited from a much softer schedule early on, with wins over the Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Chiefs.
Here is one bold prediction for each team in Monday’s matchup:
Peyton Manning Finds Four Different Targets in the End Zone
Manning is coming off a 337-yard, three-touchdown performance in last week’s 31-21 loss to the New England Patriots. The quarterback is hitting on all cylinders and using his whole arsenal of weapons—even more so than his days with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos have six receivers with at least one touchdown and four of those targets have two or more scores.
While Denver might not have the most talented group of receivers, this unit’s balance might only be rivaled by the Green Bay Packers.
Demaryius Thomas has been able to stretch the field, while Eric Decker works his target pocket as well as anyone in the league. Former Colts Brandon Stokely and Jacob Tamme are proving to be reliable assets for Manning as well. And tight end Joel Dreessen actually leads the team with three receiving touchdowns.
The Chargers allow 260 yards per game through the air, good for 22nd in the NFL. And their 11 touchdowns passes against ranks 25th. Manning and Co. should be able to exploit all levels of the field against San Diego Monday night.
Antonio Gates Tallies 8 Catches for 100 Yards and 2 Touchdowns
Chargers’ tight end Antonio Gates is having a down year based on his standards. His 13 catches for 143 yards and zero touchdowns are a far cry from what the potential hall of famer is used to producing.
It is hard to say what impact the departure of wide receiver Vincent Jackson is having on Gates. But San Diego must find a way to get him more involved in the offense if the team plans on any sustained success in 2012.
The Broncos are doing a great job of defending the pass this season; they rank eighth in the league, allowing 215 yards per game. However, teams have found success in finding the end zone through the air, having done so nine times.
Denver has had mixed success against their opposition’s top tight end. Heath Miller, Tony Gonzalez and Owen Daniels have all found the end zone, yet the Broncos were able to stifle Rob Gronkowski in last week’s loss to the Patriots.
Ultimately, the Chargers will need to get Gates going.
Wide Receiver Robert Meachem was able to get involved last week with two touchdowns, and running backs Ryan Mathews and Jackie Battle create a formidable 1-2 punch out of the backfield. If Philip Rivers can continue utilizing the entire field, Gates should be able to find success tonight against the Broncos.