This seems obvious, right? Who else should lead this list?
However, it’s not just about Peyton Manning’s fantastic season—it’s about how without Manning's stellar season, Denver may not be in the playoffs.
The Denver defense, ranked No 14 during the 2013 NFL regular season, allowed the 11th-most points per game in the league.
Of the 12 teams which made the playoffs, nine of those teams were ranked between No. 22 San Diego and No. 32 Seattle for fewest points allowed this season, according to NFL.com.
Only the Packers gave up more points (No. 8 in the NFL) than the Broncos among postseason teams, though the Eagles were close to Denver’s No. 11 ranking at No. 16. Everyone else was in the bottom third for points allowed per game.
That puts the Broncos at a bit of a disadvantage and makes Manning all the more critical—even against San Diego.
The Chargers offense was ranked No. 5 in overall potency in 2013—No. 4 in passing, and No. 13 in rushing. That’s not far behind the Broncos, who have the No.1 overall ranking in offense—No. 1 in passing and No. 15 in rushing.
That’s almost a ‘push’ when comparing offensive production.
We know that San Diego can move the ball, but it’s their defensive ranking—and the fact that they allow an average of just 21.8 points a game—which makes Manning so critical.
That is especially true when you note that both previous games between the Chargers and Broncos accounted for two of the three lowest-scoring games for Denver this season. In those two games against San Diego, Denver only scored 28 and 20 points, respectively. The Broncos' other low-scoring win was a 27-17 decision over Kansas City.
The Chargers will try to stymie Manning again and cap the Broncos’ scoring. If they can do that, San Diego has a very good chance of winning, which means Manning has to come up big.