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NFL Denver BroncosSan Diego Chargers

2014 NFL Playoffs: 5 Key Matchups in Broncos vs. Chargers

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5 Key Matchups in Broncos vs. Chargers

stadium
Kirby Lee-USA Today Sports

The Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers will meet for the third time this year in a rubber match that could determine the AFC’s Super Bowl representative. The Broncos are the No. 1 seed from the AFC while the Chargers, another self-proclaimed “team of destiny," made the playoffs by winning four straight, including a win over the Broncos after sitting at 5-7 with four games left.

The Broncos are the favorite to win the Super Bowl from the AFC, but they better not look ahead as the Broncos’ third and final loss of the regular season came against the Chargers just three weeks ago. The Chargers had a genius game plan in that contest, only allowing Peyton Manning to have the ball for 21 minutes.

San Diego achieved this by keeping the ball in running back Ryan Mathews' hands. Mathews' 127 rushing yards and one touchdown propelled the Chargers to victory. The Chargers also forced the Broncos into many third-and-longs and only allowed Denver to convert 22 percent of their opportunities on this critical down. It will be a key for the Chargers to repeat this formula for a victory.

If the Broncos want to have more success in this game they are going to have to get positive yards on first and second-down to keep themselves out of the third-and-longs that plagued them last time these two met. Getting the quick passing game going is a must; these Broncos are almost unbeatable when that phase is working for them.

Denver also has to be willing to hand the ball to Knowshon Moreno on first-down to either open up the pass game or exploit a defense that is worried about the pass.

Here are five key matchups to keep an eye on in this crucial rematch.

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5. Philip Rivers vs. Broncos' Secondary

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA Today Sports

Philip Rivers passed for under 250 yards both times these two teams faced each other this season. Rivers is no schlub, but with the way the Broncos were run all over last time these teams played they are going to want to force Rivers to beat them. Denver’s secondary is not the greatest, allowing the 27th most passing yards per game. Rivers will exploit the Broncos' secondary when given the chance, and it will be a lot easier for him if his team has success on the ground so he does not have to put the team on his back.

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4. Knowshon Moreno vs. Chargers' Run Defense

chargers
Robert Hanashiro-USA Today Sports

If the Broncos want to play in a game next week they will have to get Moreno involved. Peyton Manning may be the greatest of all time, but putting the game completely on his shoulders is not wise. If Moreno can muster up at least 80 rushing yards to take some pressure off of the Broncos' passing game and slow down the rush that San Diego will send after Manning then Denver will win this game.

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3. Danny Woodhead vs. Broncos' Linebackers

chargers
Kirby Lee-USA Today Sports

Danny Woodhead is a matchup nightmare and has become a big weapon for Philip Rivers in the pass game. He is the newest version of Darren Sproles and has the same effect as linebackers struggle to cover him coming out of the backfield. Woodhead even beats cornerbacks when lined up in the slot. The man is a weapon, and the Broncos will have to know where he is on every down.

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2. Peyton Manning vs. San Diego's Secondary

manning
Ron Chenoy-USA Today Sports

It is no secret that Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and depending on what happens in this game, he’ll have a chance to either build upon his already legendary legacy or give his critics another reason to shoot him down. If Manning loses this game he will be 9-12 in the playoffs with nine losses coming in the first round Manning’s team played in.

The Broncos will have to exploit this matchup as there are not many teams who can shut down all of Denver’s receiving threats, and San Diego is not one of them. The Chargers have the 29th ranked secondary in terms of yards per game.

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1. Ryan Mathews vs Denver's Run Defense

denver
Rob Chenoy-USA Today Sports

This matchup is huge. The winner of this matchup will be playing a football game next week. If the Chargers get Ryan Mathews going in this game they will be able to make it another short day for Peyton Manning. If San Diego has the ball more than 38 minutes and Mathews runs for over 125-yards on the ground it will equate to a victory.