The San Diego Chargers (No. 6 seed) and Denver Broncos (No. 1) will meet for the third time in 10 weeks in the AFC Divisional Round. The AFC West rivals will get things kicked off on Sunday, Jan. 12 at 4:40 p.m. ET at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The two teams split the seasonal series 1-1, with Denver winning in San Diego 28-20 in Week 10 and San Diego winning in Denver 27-20 in Week 15.
The Chargers (9-7) sneaked into the playoffs by finishing the season with a four-game winning streak—including a controversial overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. San Diego won its fifth game in a row during Wild Card Weekend by taking out the Cincinnati Bengals 27-10 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Denver (13-3) earned a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Peyton Manning's 2013 season will go down as one of the greatest in league history thanks to multiple NFL single-season records, as pointed out by CBS Sports' Eye on Football:
But his magnificent regular-season achievements won't mean anything when the first whistle blows this upcoming weekend against the Chargers. Postseason games have a tendency to put to death regular-season trends, which is just one of the reasons playoff football is so entertaining.
Here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with injury reports, analysis and a final prediction.
When: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:40 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 59 points
- Spread: Denver (-9)
Can San Diego's Keep-Away Approach Work Again?
Manning's Broncos scored more points (606) than any team in NFL history during the regular season. But that isn't necessarily a good thing, as pointed out by Russell Baxter of Bleacher Report:
The old adage "defense wins championships" seems corny, but it's been proved true time and time again over the years. Unfortunately, Denver doesn't have a championship defense, which means teams can beat the Broncos with a solid game plan that revolves around ball-control offense.
This is exactly what Chargers head coach Mike McCoy has attempted to do both times against Denver this year. The Chargers won the time-of-possession battle in both (38:03 in Week 10; 38:49 in Week 15), and it worked to perfection the second time around.
The Broncos are well aware of San Diego's goal. Defensive end Malik Jackson talked about what his team needs to do in order to keep the Chargers from accomplishing it, via Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post:
As a defense, we just have to go out there and stop the run, stop them from getting second-and-short, third-and-short and get (quarterback) Philip Rivers off his spot where he wants to pass. And I think once we do that, we kind of get that going, we should be good as a defense.
Easier said than done.
Marc Sessler of NFL.com highlights the ultimate goal of such an approach against Denver, adding an interesting bit of perspective about why San Diego might have an edge over Manning:
The goal is clear: Keeping Manning off the field. The Chargers are the only team to hold Peyton's Broncos to under 400 yards -- and they did it twice this season.
Two of Denver's three-lowest scoring outputs also came against San Diego, and Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is 6-5 against Manning since joining the team in 2002.
The Chargers used the same approach in the Wild Card Round against the Bengals.
Philip Rivers only attempted 16 passes in the game (completing 12), and San Diego racked up 196 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries.
Rivers is still as capable as ever of pushing the ball downfield, but his current roster isn't built for such an approach. The Chargers are playing smart football right now, and if they can execute McCoy's game plan to perfection, then their Cinderella season might yet have a tale to tell.
San Diego has played Denver tough this season, but the Broncos will back up their No. 1 seed with a thrilling victory at home to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks Manning is going to have a field day against the Chargers in this one: "Peyton Manning against the San Diego secondary seems unfair. Now, things will get interesting if Denver cannot protect No. 18, but I like Manning to carve up the Chargers at home."
Given the fact that Wes Welker (who didn't play in the second regular-season meeting) will be back in action, it's hard to argue with Miller's point. Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas make Denver's offense practically unstoppable.
The Broncos have had two weeks to rest up and prepare for this matchup, which will serve them well.
Look for Denver's offense to come out with a crisp start and a red-hot tempo. The No. 1 goal will be to put up points as quickly as possible so San Diego is forced to abandon its running game early.
Rivers will keep it close, but the Broncos will simply be too good offensively to be stopped at home in this one.
Broncos win, 35-28.
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