Prior to the wild-card weekend, the San Diego Chargers were the biggest longshots to win the Super Bowl of any playoff team. They entered their Sunday game with the Cincinnati Bengals as seven-point underdogs, having barely reached the postseason as the No.6 seed. With the divisional round, approaching, though, the team is still alive, and looking to continue their run against the Denver Broncos when the two teams meet at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
San Diego pulled off the biggest surprise of the first round by easily defeating the Bengals, 27-10. The Chargers won in Cincinnati, which is something no road team had been able to do in the 2013 regular season.
A victory for the Chargers on Sunday would be an even bigger upset than their wild-card win. They are getting 9.5 points at most Las Vegas casinos, which is more points than any underdog in the first two weeks of the playoffs.
However, the Chargers have not only proven that they can defeat the Broncos, but they’ve shown that they can do it in Denver. After losing the first head-to-head matchup between the two teams by eight points, they beat the Broncos 27-20 on "Thursday Night Football" in Week 15. The Chargers held Peyton Manning to his third-lowest passing total of the season.
The Chargers went 9-7 during the regular season, but they excelled against elite competition, going 6-3 against teams with a winning record. Not only did San Diego pick up a win in Denver, but they also beat the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. They had their most trouble with last-place teams like the Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, and Washington Redskins. If San Diego’s biggest issue was rising to the level of their opponent, they could have a chance to make a run in the AFC.
Last year, the Broncos were in the very same position. They entered the playoffs as the No.1 seed in the AFC and were set to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At home, they managed to lose to the Baltimore Ravens and get eliminated in their first postseason game.
"You don't harp on the first time you fell off your bike, but you remember falling off and you know you don't want to do it again," tight end Julius Thomas said. "So, it's not that we're dwelling on the Ravens or even if it's about the Ravens. It could have been any team that we lost to. But we do have a fresh reminder of if you don't come out and play your `A' game in this tournament, you're going to lose."
Despite how well the Chargers are playing, it won’t be easy for them to slow down Manning. The quarterback set several records in the regular season, and even though San Diego contained him better than most, he still put up big numbers. Against the Chargers, Manning threw for six touchdowns and one interception.
He struggled at times in the Dec. 12 loss, but the veteran quarterback was without Wes Welker, one of his favorite targets. The wide receiver has since recovered from his concussion and will be ready on Sunday. The likes of Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas could be in for a big day against the No.29 pass defense in the NFL.
While Philip Rivers didn’t play like Manning in 2013, he was still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. He finished the season ranked fourth with a 105.5 passer rating. Only three other quarterbacks threw more touchdown passes then him, and his 69.5 completion percentage was No.1 in football.
The contest features two of the best offenses in the NFL. Denver set a record by scoring 37.9 points per game, and San Diego ranked fifth in total yards. As a result, the over/under of 54.5 is the highest of the playoffs.
Betting Odds: Denver -9.5, 54.5
Prediction: Denver: 31, San Diego 28