Division games in the NFL are often referred to as two game swings because in addition to winning a game, you are also handing a rival a loss. When the Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers in October, they went from the possibility of being two games behind in the division to being in a tie for the division lead. That’s how big division games are and the game versus the Chargers on Sunday is even bigger. It is not a two game swing; it is a three game swing. If the Chargers upset the Broncos, then all of the sudden they are within one game and would own the tiebreaker. If the Broncos win on Sunday then they would have a three game lead over the Chargers, and the lead would actually be even bigger. Because the Broncos would have swept the Chargers, the lead would be four games. That’s how big Sunday’s game is.
The problem is, at least for the Chargers, that there is only one team playing on Sunday that is ready to play in a big game. The Broncos are rolling and have been ever since the second half of the first meeting between these two rivals. The Broncos outscored the Chargers 35-0 after halftime to erase a 24-0 deficit. The Chargers have only won one game since the Monday night game in October and are in a free fall, but they have one last chance to save their season with a win in Denver.
There’s only two ways the Broncos lose this game and with Peyton Manning, the first one is a long shot. If the Broncos take the Chargers lightly based on the way the last game ended and the way the two teams are playing, then the Chargers have a chance to steal one. The problem with that is Manning will never let that happen. A lot of the concern going into the last two road games was that the Broncos were going to overlook the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers. The Broncos not only won both of those games, they won them fairly easily. Manning knows that the Broncos can put the AFC West away with a home win over the Chargers, and there’s no way he lets his teammates take this one for granted.
The other shot that the Chargers have is for Phillip Rivers to turn into the quarterback he used to be. When Rivers is on, he is still one of the best passers in the game and can win a game with his arm at anytime. There are a couple of problems with that, though. Number one, Rivers has not been that guy in the last two seasons. He looks great at times but then makes one or two big mistakes that change the game.
The bigger problem for Rivers and the Chargers is the Broncos defense. Led by Von Miller, the defense is playing as well as anyone in football right now. The pass rush is relentless and that’s not good news for a quarterback who is all ready struggling with his confidence. On the rare occasions when the pass rush does not get to the quarterback, the secondary for the Broncos is there to pick up the slack. Champ Bailey, Tony Carter, Chris Harris and the others in the defensive backfield are covering receivers better than anyone.
The Chargers can be a dangerous team, especially if Rivers plays well but it is hard to see them coming into Denver and winning. The Broncos know what’s on the line and that they can put the division away with a win. In the past, fans of the Broncos would have every right to be nervous about this one because it sets up as a classic loss in a big game. However these Broncos are led by Manning and he just will not allow them to overlook anyone.
The Broncos jump out to an early lead, the defense pins their ears back and they cruise in the second half. Broncos-35 Chargers-17.
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