It seems unusual that two division rivals would have to wait until Week 13 of the regular season for their first battle, but that is the case for the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers who will meet on the gridiron this Sunday afternoon.
This week's match-up highlights two franchises heading in opposite directions. The Broncos are hot and have won two games in a row with Brock Osweiler at the helm, while the Chargers have lost six of their last seven games. Considered to be a playoff contender entering the season, the Chargers have fallen from grace and have endured one of their worst stretches in recent memory. The combination of injuries and the inability to win consistent battles in the trenches on both sides of the ball have been their bane all season long.
If they are unable to turn the tide of fortune in their favor and sail out of the abyss by salvaging together a handful of wins, they will remain destitute and suffer their worst record since the 2003 season. With a win against San Diego on Sunday, the Broncos will become one step closer to not only securing a playoff spot, but their fifth straight AFC West Division Championship.
Who's Hot for San Diego
Quarterback Phiip Rivers: Despite having a terrible season thus far as a team, a shining star glimmers in the darkness San Diego has endured this year and that star is quarterback Philip Rivers. Despite playing for a 3-8 team, he is in consideration alongside Tom Brady and Cam Newton for NFL MVP honors based on his magnificent 2015 season. His performance has been nothing short of miraculous given the decimation of his offensive line and receiving corps via injury.
He is a league leader or among them in several key categories. Hiis 100.1 QBR is seventh best in the NFL and his 68.5% completion percentage is a league best. Rivers 3,511 yards passing trails only Tom Brady and he is tied for fifth overall with 23 touchdowns thrown. His play on the field has been admirable and although a bitter rival of the Broncos, Rivers deserves credit for being able to do so much with so little this season.
His caliber of passing prowess will be one of the toughest match ups for the Broncos defense this season. Don't be surprised to see them blanket Antonio Gates, who has been heating up as of late and reminded us of the big play ability he has given the Chargers for many years. The No Fly Zone should also be aware of the possibility of a handful of running back screen plays to Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead, who have had success out of the backfield as receivers this year.
If DeMarcus Ware is healthy enough to play Sunday, Denver's defense will have its full slate of pass rushers to take advantage of a porous Chargers offensive line that has been marred by injuries. If Denver can get after Rivers and rattle his cage, they should have no problem coming out of Qualcomm Stadium with a victory.
Who's Not Hot for San Diego
San Diego's Defense: The huge weakness for the San Diego Chargers throughout the course of the season has been their inability to stop the run. They rank seventh in the NFL in total rushing yards allowed (1,361) and rank last in the league in regard to yards per attempt, with opposing backs toting the rock for a hefty 4.9 yards per carry. Additionally, their rush defense is giving up 123.7 yards a game (seventh worst) and have surrendered 12 total rushing touchdowns this year.
Their performance defensively has been an abomination all season long and as a unit they are giving up a whopping 28 points per game. It is hard to win games in the NFL when teams are hanging four touchdowns a game regularly on you and I wouldn't expect the Chargers to come up with a winning scheme to combat a Broncos offense that has seen a resurgence in the running attack the past several weeks.
Expect the Broncos offense game plan to be built around the rushing attack of C.J. Anderson, who looked revitalized and showed glimpses of the greatness he endured late last year against the Patriots. If the offensive line can continue to improve as they have over the past few weeks, he and Ronnie Hillman should have plenty of opportunities to slash, dash and gash the vulnerable Chargers defense.
The Match Up to Watch
Demaryius Thomas vs. Brandon Flowers: After what could be regarded as his worst game of his professional career, it will be interesting to see if Demaryius Thomas rebounds against the San Diego Chargers defense this weekend. San Diego ranks in the bottom half of the league in pass defense and is giving up over 8 yards per reception. Moreover, they haven't been forcing many turnovers and have one of the worst interception amounts (6) this season.
If there was any opportunity for Thomas to have a big game, this would be the one. If the Broncos are able to run the ball effectively, expect some deep throws down the field from Brock Osweiler to catch the Chargers defense off guard. I have no doubts that Thomas will have a big game this weekend and regain the faith of the Broncos fan base who was very critical of his performance against New England.
A lot of fans have expressed their worries about the game in San Diego possibly being a "trap" for Denver this weekend. I don't share the same concerns and believe that the Broncos offense and defense have very favorable match-ups across the board against the Chargers.
Every game matters for the team in their quest for home field advantage (or a first round bye) in the playoffs and I believe Gary Kubiak and Wade Philips will have their units firing on all cylinders this weekend. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combine for over 150 yards on the ground and and Brock Osweiler continues to impress and connects with Demaryius Thomas on a spectacular throw down the field to bury the Chargers at home.
Denver 34, San Diego 17.