We've been watching the weather forecast for Denver's playoff game closely since the date of the game was announced. You could even say we started watching the weather stupid early.
Now, it's no longer stupid to be looking at the Rocky Mountain forecast, just over 24 hours before kickoff, and it turns out weather could indeed play a factor. While the mostly sunny skies and 40 degree temps are mild for a Colorado January afternoon, the wind is another factor entirely.
With steady 20 mph winds and gusts up to 30 mph according to Weather.com, it's going to be a windy affair between the Broncos and Chargers Sunday afternoon.
How the Broncos might take the wind into account
There's no denying that a windy game affects the Broncos' ability to execute its no huddle passing offense. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase admitted it a month ago, trying to deflect a question about cold weather games and saying wind plays a bigger factor.
"It can be as cold as you want it but the wind has always been the biggest factor any time there are cold conditions," Gase said in December.
At face value this plays against the Broncos' offensive gameplan, and into the Chargers' hands. Denver will be forced to run (Gase admitted he'll run more in the wind than otherwise), and the Broncos didn't break every NFL record on the feet of Knowshon Moreno.
In particular, San Diego's defense looks to benefit from a personnel perspective. San Diego thrives when safety Eric Weddle is free to make plays sideline to sideline and creep into the box, and this wind might allow him to do this.
The Broncos can offset Weddle with their short passing game: well-timed, well-executed screens and by letting their talented receivers make plays after the catch. Tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Wes Welker have particularly excelled after the catch - nearly every one of Julius Thomas' 12 touchdowns were run into the end zone instead of caught there - while Knowshon Moreno has added over 500 yards receiving on the season. And we are all keenly aware that even a typical deep threat like Demaryius Thomas is more than capable of turning a short pass into a huge play.
If the Broncos do this, then take their deep shots during quarters with the wind at their backs, they may even catch Weddle and the Chargers by surprise. Otherwise, Denver has its short-yardage options, and they can lean on Knowshon Moreno on Montee Ball to churn out yardage (just look at how effective Moreno was in Denver's last windy game against the Patriots - 224 yards rushing). The Broncos need to remain patient, take what the wind (and the Chargers) give them, and let their talented receiving corps make plays after the catch.
How the Chargers might take the wind into account
The good news is that the wind takes away the Chargers' offensive strength as well. They are an efficient passing team, but Philip Rivers likes to go deep. He got away with a few passes against the Broncos last time that he probably would not have tried against 20-30 mph winds.
The Chargers still have dangerous short-yardage threats, though. Tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green stand out as threats by reputation and potential respectively, while Keenan Allen abused Denver's secondary with a touchdown leap into the end zone after the catch in Week 15. Broncos safeties Mike Adams and Duke Ihenacho are each better in the short game than in coverage, so this plays into Denver's hands as well.
It also hurts the Chargers because their running game might not be at full force. We earlier stated that there was no one worth watching more closely on the injury report than Ryan Mathews. This weather report only compounds his importance - now forced to run, it would be a huge benefit to San Diego's running game to have their best back in the game.
In conclusion, the deep passing game of both teams will be affected. This has its pros and cons for the Broncos, but the return of Wes Welker, the offset of talent in the receiving game, and the comparative health of the teams' running attack gives the Broncos the edge in blustery conditions Sunday.