Welcome, friends, to the first Playoff Edition of MHR's Broncos Six-Pack! For those who haven't read an explanation of my Six-Pack, it's a collection of six semi-random thoughts, nuggets, or stats/points of interest. It's a trip into my brain, which is often obsessed with several different factors involving the upcoming game. That is certainly the case this week, as the Denver Broncos are set to host the San Diego Chargers.
So here are six of my playoff thoughts, nuggets, and stats/points of interest heading into this Sunday's epic game against my least favorite team.
This one's personal
I have hated the Chargers since I was very young. When I talk about the Chargers being my least favorite team on Twitter or on the blog, many can't believe it. The Raiders and Chiefs are more deserving of my hate - or so I am told. Let me explain my passionate distaste for the blue and gold.
I grew up in Yuma, AZ, and San Diego was only a three-hour drive away. There were a lot of Chargers fans in Yuma, and even though I spent most of my childhood there, my Colorado roots (where I was born) proved stronger than a desire to fit in. Even though I remained a Broncos fan, however, that fandom was only skin-deep. At eight years old, I liked the orange uniforms, and I liked the fact that my dad liked this team. I had a Nintendo game called John Elway's Quarterback. That was enough for eight-year-old me.
All of that would change the day my dad took me to a Broncos-Chargers game in San Diego.
The details of the game escape me. I don't remember the action on the field. I more vividly remember sitting in the stands, being interested in the pizza guy making his way around the stadium (my dad finally caved and bought us a large pizza to share - I was a chubby kid). I really didn't care about football to that point. Even into the fourth quarter, as the Broncos were losing, I wasn't concerned. They were my team, the good guys, and surely they'd find a way to win, like Mario.
But then, something bizarre happened. The Broncos lost. They actually lost. How could they lose? They were my team, the best team, the good guys. What happened?
That day, the sting of the loss stuck with me. That game mattered. I regretted not paying attention. I regretted caring more about pizza than football. That day, that game transformed me.
That game made me a Chargers hater as much as a Broncos fan.
So when I say I hate the San Diego Chargers, it's the same feeling of love I have for the Denver Broncos. It stems from the exact same place, the exact same moment. My passion against this Chargers team knows no bounds.
Destroy San Diego on Sunday, Denver.
The Chargers are not the hottest team in the NFL
I'm getting tired of this rhetoric. The Chargers are not the hottest team in the NFL; they're the hottest and coldest team in the NFL. Yes, they've won five straight, and that's mightily impressive heading into the playoffs. But let's look at those five wins. Two are impressive: their Thursday Night victory against Denver, and their wild card playoff victory over Cincinnati. Otherwise, they beat the Giants, Raiders, and Chiefs backups. And they struggled big-time against KC.
The Chargers are hot, but they're not so red-hot that they can't be cooled.
But they have figured out how to slow down Peyton Manning
The Broncos have struggled against the Chargers unlike anyone else they have faced this season. San Diego's victory over Denver wasn't a fluke; it was thorough. San Diego didn't win based on a crazy last-minute play or flurry of turnovers. The Chargers kept Manning off the field, and they kept Rivers on the field, and they dominated time of possession en route to Denver's only home loss of the 2013 season.
We'll be breaking down how the Chargers kept Manning from garnering a first down for much of the Thursday Night game later - even later today, Mike will break down San Diego's coverage schemes - but Denver's offense needs to be prepared to take what San Diego's defense gives them.
The return of Wes Welker and Champ Bailey bodes well
First, let's talk about Champ Bailey. I love how the Broncos have used Bailey sparingly over the past few weeks, and I hope they continue to. In his previous attempts to return to the field early this season, Bailey had taken back over his starting position. The returns on that decision were poor - Bailey struggled, and ultimately aggravated his injury.
Lately, that hasn't been the case - the Broncos have allowed Chris Harris Jr. and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to continue as Denver's top corners, and Champ has filled in as the third cornerback in slot work. This is the perfect setup for Denver, as Harris and DRC have shone all season, and I hope the Broncos continue to employ it.
Second, Welker. Denver executed Wes Welker's return to the field perfectly, giving him plenty of time to recover from his concussions. The addition of Welker doesn't make Denver unbeatable, but it does make slowing Peyton Manning's offense all the more difficult. The Broncos are much more likely to escape a drought of first downs with Welker on the field.
These two additions alone give me a lot of optimism heading into this game.
Fourteen days' rest beats four
Last time: a Thursday night game. This time: a bye week in between. Enough said.
To me, the second most interesting quote of 2013 came from Terrance Knighton minutes after the Chargers loss (I'll re-unveil the most interesting quote just next, because it is also relevant). He said that fateful Thursday night, simply, "They're fighting for their season, and we just didn't match their intensity tonight."
He was absolutely right. Luckily enough, now the Broncos are fighting for their season. Intensities better be matched.
The value of a late season loss
I dedicated an entire post to Terrell Davis' musings during training camp, and in case you missed it, here it is again.
"People underestimate that loss late in November or December. Not to say that you go out there and try to lose a game, but it's a chance for the team to refocus, recalibrate, look at the things that you've been sweeping under the rug because you've been winning games so many times."
There is no sweeping under the rug this time. The Broncos are aware of how the Chargers slowed them down in November, and how they beat them outright in December. Avenge that loss with a victory over San Diego, sending the Chargers home. Avenge that blemish on Denver's 2013 home record.
Avenge that loss so many years ago for Eight-Year-Old Me.
Go Broncos! To victory!