When the Broncos take on the Chargers this weekend in Mile High, the scene will look eerily reminiscent of just a year prior, when the Broncos faced the visiting Baltimore Ravens.
A year ago in the divisional playoffs, with the Broncos as the AFC's No. 1 seed, the Ravens visited Mile High and was given little chance to win. Baltimore entered the game as near double-digit underdogs.
The Ravens would leave Mile High with a 38-35 victory over the Broncos.
And so we have a repeat of last season's storyline, except this time with the Chargers. The Broncos enter this game as nine-point favorites and as the AFC's No. 1 seed hosting their opening playoff game versus what appears to be an overmatched team.
Per the Associated Press' Arnie Stapleton, Denver tight end Julius Thomas talks about the impact of last year's divisional-round disappointment (via ABC News):
You don't harp on the first time you fell off your bike, but you remember falling off and you know you don't want to do it again...So, it's not that we're dwelling on the Ravens or even if it's about the Ravens. It could have been any team that we lost to. But we do have a fresh reminder of if you don't come out and play your "A" game in this tournament, you're going to lose.
The two AFC West rivals split the season series, with the Broncos taking the first game in San Diego by a score of 28-20. The Chargers won the second game, handing the Broncos their third and final loss of the regular season, 27-20.
In the first game, a Broncos win, both teams moved the football real well on offense. The difference was that the Broncos converted their opportunities into touchdowns, while the Chargers too many times settled for field goals.
The Chargers were inside the Denver 23-yard line on three of their first four offensive drives. All three drives resulted in field-goal attempts, with the Chargers coming out with just six points.
In that same game, the Broncos scored four touchdowns, all in quick order. The Broncos' scoring drives lasted 57 seconds; 2:27, 1:25 and 3:26.
San Diego controlled the football for over 38 minutes at home and still lost.
With the same game plan going into the second game between the two teams in Week 15, the Chargers executed the same game plan, except with better execution this time around.
The Chargers held the ball for over nearly 39 minutes in the second game, scoring three touchdowns, while the defense held Manning in check, as Peyton threw a late-game interception in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the win for San Diego in Mile High.
"The longer you keep the ball and the less he (Manning) has it, the better off you're going to be," said Chargers coach Mike McCoy following the victory, per SportsNetwork.com (via FoxNews.com).
When the two AFC West rivals face off for the third time this season, expect the same formula by San Diego—control the football and keep Manning off the field.
Although Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had perhaps the best season of his career in 2013, ranking in the top five in passing yards, quarterback rating and touchdown passes, along with ranking first in the league in completion percentage, the Chargers took on a conservative approach versus the Cincinnati Bengals in their playoff victory last weekend.
Rivers attempted just 16 passes, completing 12 of them for 128 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. As a team, San Diego ran for 196 yards en route to their first playoff victory in five years.
The moral of the story? In spite of San Diego's ability to run a high-octane offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, the Chargers will rely on a rejuvenated rushing attack featuring a three-headed running attack in Ryan Matthews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown. All three running backs received at least eight carries in San Diego's playoff victory over Cincinnati.
The Broncos will expect San Diego to come in with this game plan. Don't be surprised if the Chargers mix it up a little bit early on in the game with Rivers and a few deep passes to catch the Broncos off guard.
Of any team the Broncos could possibly meet in the playoffs this year, the Chargers are the most dangerous opponent. They know the Broncos well, nothing is expected of them, and most important of all? They've already proven they can beat the Broncos.
If Denver is to avoid another Mile High meltdown akin to what happened versus Baltimore in last season's playoffs, the Broncos cannot take the Chargers lightly.