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The last game of the divisional round will be played on Sunday afternoon in Denver, when the Broncos host the red-hot San Diego Chargers in what's sure to be a fascinating affair.
The Chargers are playing great football, winning five consecutive games since their 5-7 start. Coach Mike McCoy's team has been in do-or-die mode for more than a month and has risen to the occasion each and every week. While quarterback Philip Rivers has gotten much of the accolades, much credit should also goes to the team's rejuvenated rushing attack, which has averaged 39 carries per game since Week 13.
While San Diego scratched, fought and clawed its way into the postseason, the Broncos breezed through the regular campaign, finishing 13-3 to claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Quarterback Peyton Manning led an offensive juggernaut, as he compiled the greatest statistical season by a signal-caller in NFL history, throwing for an absurd 55 touchdown passes.
But the Broncos had their two worst offensive outputs of the season against the Chargers. San Diego held Denver to less than 400 yards of total offense twice this year.
In Week 15, the Chargers rolled into Denver and suffocated the Broncos with their run game and defense and emerged with a 27-20 victory. In fact, in the two games against Denver, the Chargers averaged 38 minutes in time of possession. Keeping the ball out of Manning's hands is a winning formula for beating the Broncos.
Plus, McCoy knows Manning well, having served as his offensive coordinator last season in Denver. Even though Vegas has installed the Broncos as heavy favorites, all the facts speak to a close game on Sunday. Anyone anticipating a blowout should read this piece from B/R lead AFC West writer Chris Hansen.
While the game will be close, Manning and the Broncos will come out on top. In the Week 15 game, they were without receiver Wes Welker, who is one of Manning's security blankets on third down. Having Welker in the lineup will be a major boon to the offense.
Plus, they know how critical this game is, especially after losing last year to Baltimore in the divisional round. This game means too much to them, and they're playing at home.
It will be closer than many expect, but the Broncos will emerge victorious and host the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday.