5 Bold Predictions for Denver Broncos' Week 15 Matchup
The Broncos won the first meeting back in October, 35-21, but they know the Chargers will be even tougher to beat this time around, especially at Qualcomm Stadium.
In fact, these two teams squared off in Week 15 last season, and San Diego came into Denver and dealt the Broncos a 27-20 loss.
But saying the Broncos are going to win this game isn't a bold prediction in and of itself. How will they achieve victory? What big plays could the team make to earn a division title?
Here are five bold predictions that will lead to the Broncos becoming AFC West champions for the fourth year in a row.
Demaryius Thomas Catches 10+ Passes
This will be the week that the passing game gets back on track for the Broncos, and Demaryius Thomas will be a huge benefactor.
Thomas had a big game the first time these two teams met back in October, reeling in eight passes for 105 yards. He'll have an even bigger game on Sunday.
Whether it's Brandon Flowers or Shareece Wright who matches up against him, Peyton Manning will be able to take advantage, and Thomas will look unstoppable at times.
#broncos Demaryius Thomas said ankle was fine. That lack of production of was reflection of game plan today. A lot of runs— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) December 8, 2014
After catching only two passes for 11 yards in Week 14, Manning will want to get his No. 1 target back on track, and he'll do so in a big way.
Thomas is on pace for his best year as a pro, as he has caught 90 passes for 1,266 yards on the season. He'll have one of his best days against San Diego.
Julius Thomas Scores Twice
Not only will Demaryius Thomas have a big game on Sunday, but their other Thomas, Julius, will also bounce back from his injury in a big way.
The Denver tight end was active in Week 14 against Buffalo, but he never got on the field. The Broncos have seriously missed his production.
Julius has caught 12 touchdown passes on the season, but he hasn't played in a game since Week 11 against St. Louis. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 10 against Oakland.
Part of the reason the passing game has been slumping is because of his absence and because the team doesn't have anyone who can sufficiently replace him.
With a full complement of weapons on Sunday, Manning will get back to tossing the ball around, and he'll find Julius Thomas for a pair of scores in this game.
Denver Defense Forces Three Turnovers
During the first game between these two teams this season, the Broncos defense played very well against Philip Rivers and the San Diego offensive attack.
Though they only came up with two sacks, the Broncos harassed Rivers, getting six hits on the quarterback. The defense also had seven tackles for loss and seven passes defensed in the game.
Most importantly, they forced Rivers into two interceptions. In this game, they'll get one more turnover.
Expect defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to dial up the pressure on Rivers and call more blitzes than we're used to seeing. The Chargers are thin along the offensive line with guys like Nick Hardwick and Jeromey Clary injured.
Del Rio will target the interior of the Chargers line, forcing Chris Watt, Johnnie Troutman and Chad Rinehart to be on alert. Running backs Ryan Mathews and Branden Oliver will also be forced to pick up blitzing defenders.
Rivers is good at taking sacks when there isn't anything there, but if they fall behind big, Denver could force some big mental mistakes with San Diego in a must-win situation.
The Broncos will have two interceptions and a forced fumble of the San Diego quarterback.
Juwan Thompson Scores on a Long Touchdown Run
Juwan Thompson is due.
After watching Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson have big games this season, the undrafted rookie from Duke has been waiting in the wings and making plays when his number is called.
It seems he's right on the cusp of a big run every week, and after a career-high 47-yard gain against Buffalo last Sunday, he appears to be settling into the offense very well.
Juwan Thompson's 47-yard yd the longest vs. the #Bills this season.— Vic Carucci (@viccarucci) December 7, 2014
On Sunday, he will break one for a touchdown.
In relief of Anderson, the Broncos will bring Thompson in to give the Chargers defense a different look. After having the Broncos pound Anderson at them for much of the game, they will be caught off guard and won't be able to catch up.
It could come late in the game, but it will be the score that puts the bow on a Denver victory. Thompson will break a touchdown run of 50 yards or longer against the Chargers.
Denver Scores on a Blocked Punt
One of the key storylines coming out of the Chargers' Week 14 loss to the New England Patriots was the injury to their punter, Mike Scifres.
Scifres had a punt blocked by the Patriots' Brandon Bolden, but that wasn't the worst news. Scifres laid on the ground for several minutes, and it was later reported by Ian Rapoport that the punter suffered a broken clavicle.
#Chargers P Mike Scifres is having surgery on his broken clavicle this morning, source said. Should be back for the playoffs if SD makes it— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 8, 2014
McBriar has played for the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers during his career and had plenty of success. But joining a team this late in the season is never a smooth transition, even if all you're doing is kicking a ball.
Look for the Broncos to see if they can put some pressure on the new punter the same way New England did and force a game-changing block.
McBriar has had five punts blocked over the course of his career.
It will be special teams ace David Bruton who gets a hand on it before another member of the special teams unit scoops it up and scores.