After losing to the Houston Texans last weekend, the Denver Broncos lost valuable ground in the AFC’s playoff race. Sitting at 6-6, the Broncos are on the outside looking in alongside the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals who have the same record.
The New England Patriots taking down the Pittsburgh Steelers [who are now 7-6] on Thursday Night Football most certainly helped Denver’s playoff odds, but the Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and Cleveland Browns are ahead of them with a 7-5 record and currently slated to be in the postseason.
Denver’s Week 14 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers is a game they have to win. With only five games remaining, the Broncos have very little margin of error and cannot afford to lose to their AFC West rival. Let’s take a deeper dive into the Chargers and discuss what they need to do to secure an essential victory on Sunday.
2022 Los Angeles Chargers Review
The Chargers finished last season with a 10-7 record (2nd in the AFC West) and earned a playoff spot. They wound up losing their Wild Card matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-30. Offensively, they were 13th in points scored and 9th in total yards. Defensively, they were 21st in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed.
2023 Los Angeles Chargers Offseason Acquisitions
The Chargers big signing from the 2023 free agent period was former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. In the draft, wide receiver Quentin Johnson was their first-round pick, but has struggled as a rookie and only has 26 receptions for 242 yards and one touchdown. Second-round draft selection Tuli Tuipulotu has impressed as a rookie and has 36 tackles and four sacks on the season.
Will Anderson unfortunately has started to distance to himself but that doesn’t take away from how special of a rookie season Tuli Tuipulotu is having for the Chargers.— Steven Haglund (@StevenIHaglund) December 6, 2023
#45 is up to:
(PFF doesn’t split sacks)
13.0 win %
19 run stops
8.8 run stop % pic.twitter.com/gyQuUy7vaD
Chargers Offensive X-Factors: Justin Herbert, QB and Keenan Allen, WR
As usual, Justin Herbert has been very efficient for the Chargers this season despite some issues as of late. Through 12 games, he is completing 66-percent of his passes, has 3,038 yards passing, 20 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. If the Broncos want to come away with a victory on the road, they are going to have to pressure Herbert early and often and force him into bad decisions that he usually avoids.
With that in mind, the Broncos will have to lockdown his favorite wide receiver in order to have a legitimate shot at winning too. I suspect that task will be given to Patrick Surtain II. Long-time Chargers stalwart Keenan Allen has been Herbert’s favorite target on the season and through his career in Los Angeles. In fact, Allen has 89 more targets than the next player on the Chargers roster and has already amassed 102 receptions for 1175 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The Broncos can’t afford for these two to have a strong connection in Sunday’s matchup and limiting their impact on the game will be crucial to achieve victory on the road.
Chargers Defensive X-Factor: Khalil Mack, EDGE
The Broncos have faced a lot of top-tier pass rushers this season. That will continue this weekend and they will have to gameplan accordingly for star edge rusher Khalil Mack, who already has a league-leading 15 sacks on the season—nearly double his 2022 numbers—and also has five forced fumbles.
Their defense hasn’t been good and rank in the bottom half or bottom quarter in the league in most categories, but Mack’s ability to provide pressure on a consistent basis has been a bright spot for their defense all season long. Truth be told, it’s pretty impressive to see how well he is playing in his tenth season in the National Football League. His pass rushing prowess will be a big test for Denver’s offensive tackles, especially Mike McGlinchey, who needs to have a rebound game after a sub-par performance against the Texans.
: #Chargers pass rusher Khalil Mack, who has 15 sacks this season, revealed that he nearly retired after the team’s 27 point playoff meltdown against the #Jaguars, he told @TheAthleticNFL— JPAFootball (@jasrifootball) December 8, 2023
Mack has 15 sacks but also 5 forced fumbles this season, and is half a… pic.twitter.com/OLkOWP3o6s
Hart’s Keys to Victory and Game Prediction
As I mentioned earlier on, this is a must-win game for the Broncos. With a 3-5 conference record, dropping this game would pretty much destroy any legitimate shot they have at the postseason. The Broncos need to limit Herbert’s impact in the passing game and do whatever it takes to stop Keenan Allen from having a huge game.
Not only that, but Russell Wilson is going to have to rebound and play a lot better than he did against the Texans. Denver can’t lose the turnover battle and expect to win the game. Wilson threw three interceptions in the second half last week and cratered their ability to win on the road in Houston.
That being said, I think the Broncos rebound and notch their seventh win of the season on Sunday against the Chargers.
Broncos 27, Chargers 24.