Denver-San Diego: Broncos and Chargers Battle for AFC West Title

Andrew GloverCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2008

Three weeks ago, the race for the AFC West Title appeared to be winding down. The Denver Broncos then had a three-game lead over the San Diego Chargers.

However, the Broncos lost 30-10 to the Carolina Panthers and 30-23 to the Buffalo Bills. The Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 and the Tampa Buccaneers 41-24, setting up a winner-take-all game in San Diego.

The Broncos (8-7) won four of their first five games, averaging 30 points per game. They have lost six of their last 10, averaging only 20 points per game. Two of the Broncos' losses were against the Oakland Raiders and Chiefs. These teams are the last two in the AFC West and have a combined record of 6-24.

Jay Cutler started the season strong for the Broncos, completing 65 percent of his passes for 1,502 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions in his first five games. In the last 10 games, Cutler’s completion percentage dropped to 60 percent, passing for 2,708 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

Because of the Broncos' injuries at running back, Cutler had to throw twice as many in the last 10 games as in the first five. In the last 10 games, Cutler has attempted 376 passes; in the first five he only threw 191.

The Broncos have been banged up at running back with seven currently on the injured reserve. Anthony Aldridge, Andre Hall, Peyton Hillis, Michael Pittman, P.J. Pope, Ryan Torain, and Selvin Young are all injured and on the reserve.

Reacquired running back Tatum Bell is the only active Broncos running back that has carries in a game. Cory Boyd, Alex Haynes, Spencer Larsen, and Andrew Pinnock are running backs that are on the active roster.

The Broncos rank third in the NFL with an average of 277 passing yards per game. Brandon Marshall is third in receptions with 98, sixth in yards with 1,210, and tied for 17th in touchdowns with six. Eddie Royal is tied for 10th with 80 receptions.

Brandon Stokley has 45 receptions for 481 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Tony Scheffler has 35 receptions for 570 yards and two touchdowns.

The Broncos have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They are 28th in points allowed (26.4), 28th in yards allowed (366.8), 27th in passing yards allowed (230.8), and 27th in rushing yards allowed (136.5). In the last two games the Broncos have allowed their opponent to score 30 points.

The Chargers (7-8) have won three of their last four games. The Chargers have averaged 32 points per game in their last three and won two of those games by at least 17 points.

Philip Rivers is fifth in the NFL in passing yards with 3,802, leads the league in touchdown passes with 32, is ninth in completion percentage with 64.8, and leads the NFL in quarterback rating with 104.0. In his last three games Rivers has completed 64 percent of his passes for 847 yards, nine touchdowns, and only one interception.

LaDainian Tomlinson is 12th in rushing yards with 1,014 and tied for 14th in rushing touchdowns with eight. Tomlinson is yet to lose a fumble this season, carrying the ball 278 times. In the last three game he has rushed for 220 yards on 61 carries and two touchdowns.

The Chargers are seventh in passing yards per game at 243.7. Vincent Jackson is 11th in receiving yards with 1,051. Antonio Gates has 57 receptions for 655 yards and eight touchdowns. Tomlinson has 52 receptions for 426 yards and one touchdown. Chris Chambers has 30 receptions for 412 yards and five touchdowns.

The Chargers defense is about middle of the league. They are 17th in points allowed per game with 21.7 and 25th in yards allowed per game with 346.2. San Diego has the second to worst pass defense, allowing an average of 242.8 yards. On the other hand, the Chargers have the 11th best rushing defense, allowing an average of 103.4 yards per game.

The keys of the game will be the Chargers offense against the Broncos defense. The Chargers offense will have to take advantage of the Broncos defense being one of the worst in the NFL to control the ball. The Broncos offense will have to try and establish a running game with whoever starts.

If the Broncos can establish the run against one of the better run defenses, they can take pressure off of Cutler.

Cutler will have to stay cool and collected if he is going to lead the Broncos to the division title. If Cutler can limit his mistakes and light up the Chargers secondary, Denver has a good chance of winning.