The record-setting Broncos offense failed to reach the 30-point plateau three times all year, two of which came against San Diego’s defense. However, tight end Jacob Tamme let ESPN.com know in a preview that the loss to the Chargers was something of a wake-up call:
"It taught us a lesson. We did kind of reboot after that and yes, I think we know that we need to play our best ball going forward and that's what we're planning on doing."
Wake-up call or not, the Chargers are red-hot, and it will take a concerted effort for Denver to end their five-game winning streak. Let’s dig into some of the key players and a prediction for the divisional-round showdown.
Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, but there are those who point to a lack of incredible postseason success as a knock against him.
That might not be fair, considering he does have a Super Bowl ring, but that one ring falls short of contemporaries such as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and even his brother, Eli Manning. Peyton Manning has lost his past three playoff games and was knocked out by the Chargers in 2007 and 2008 while at Indianapolis.
He can completely rewrite the narrative with a second Super Bowl ring this year, and it begins against the 29th-ranked pass defense in the league. San Diego may have contained the Broncos offense in the two regular-season matchups (although Manning did throw for a combined 619 yards and six touchdowns), but Manning will exploit this vulnerable secondary in the postseason.
San Diego isn’t the only team with a leaky secondary taking the field in Denver. The Broncos ranked 26th in the league in opposing passing yards this year, which was a concern that was often overshadowed by Manning’s brilliance.
The Chargers have been relying on the run during their winning streak (170.2 yards a game on the ground in the last five games) and are 10-2 when rushing for more than 102 yards, but Ryan Mathews is nursing an ankle injury. That means San Diego is going to need to move the ball through the air at some point to win this game.
Look for breakout star Keenan Allen, who finished with 1,046 yards and eight receiving touchdowns, to find holes against Denver’s secondary. If the Chargers are going to win, Allen will need a big day.
The Chargers sacked Manning a combined three times in the two regular-season matchups, but the constant pocket pressure was one of the reasons Denver posted its lowest scoring output of the year in the loss to San Diego.
With a vulnerable secondary going up against the Broncos’ arsenal of weapons, the Chargers will need to pressure Manning into making mistakes. That starts with the team’s leader in sacks, Corey Liuget.
Liuget finished with five tackles and a sack against the Bengals during Wild Card Weekend and was a menace for Cincinnati to deal with all game. In fact, the Chargers are undefeated this season when Liuget does pick up a sack, so look for him to try to keep that trend going.
Denver 31, San Diego 20
For as human as San Diego made Denver’s machine-like offense look in the Week 15 matchup, we are still talking about Manning against one of the worst secondaries in the league statistics-wise.
Manning will throw for three touchdowns, and Allen’s impressive game on the other side of the ball won’t be enough for the Chargers to overcome an early deficit. Be prepared for an entire week of Manning versus Brady storylines after this one.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.
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