The Denver Broncos have been one of the most hyped Super Bowl contenders all season long, but their season could come to an end this very Sunday. The Broncos had a first-round bye thanks to their 13-3 regular season record, but the San Diego Chargers are getting hot at the right time and pose a real threat to ending the Broncos’ season.
After their 27-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend, the Chargers have now won six of their last seven games, including a 27-20 victory over the Broncos in Week 15. Although showing an incompetent defensive unit throughout the season, the Chargers haven’t allowed a team to score more than 24 points since they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 41-28 in Week 12. Their offense has been solid all year, but now with their defense performing, they shouldn’t be overlooked as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
They first must get past the Broncos this weekend, a task which really shouldn’t be that hard. The Broncos are without linebacker Von Miller for the rest of the playoffs, which will prove to be costly considering Miller is ranked as the team’s best defensive player by Pro Football Focus, and it isn’t even close. Miller even missed the team’s first six games of the season, which not only shows how great of a player he is, but how bad the rest of the Broncos’ unit really is.
The Chargers should be able to take advantage of Miller’s injury, as he was the team’s premier pass rusher, meaning Philip Rivers could now have all day to stand in the pocket. The Chargers don’t boast one of the best pass blocking offensive lines, but the emergence of Keenan Allen in the short game recently has allowed Rivers to complete a higher percentage of passes, while also taking fewer costly sacks.
You also cannot overlook the running game of the Chargers, as both Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead are threats running and catching the ball. Mathews has rushed for 99 yards or more in four of his last five games, and Woodhead has shown to be a constant receiving threat out of the backfield, as he’s totaled a career high 76 receptions this season.
The Chargers clearly have the offense to compete with the Broncos, but their improved defensive play will ultimately decide the game. They held the Broncos to 28 and 20 points in their two regular season matchups and shut down the running game by holding them to just 102 combined rushing yards.
The Chargers held the Bengals to just 10 points in last weekend’s Wild Card matchup, and beat them at home where they previously were an undefeated 8-0. The Chargers are on the road again this weekend, but with Rivers beating Peyton Manning five of the nine times they’ve faced off in their careers, it looks as if the Chargers will be the ones leaving the field victorious and headed to the AFC Championship game.