With both clubs eyeing a shot at the AFC title game, the Denver Broncos square off against the San Diego Chargers in Sunday afternoon’s AFC Divisional Round at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
After narrowly missing out on last year’s conference title game in a double-overtime heartbreaker, quarterback and MVP-favorite Peyton Manning hopes to lift the Broncos to their first AFC championship appearance since 2005. Denver has won one playoff game since then, when Tim Tebow was under center in 2011.
The Chargers and Philip Rivers have had a slightly shorter drought. Back in 2007 they ran into the juggernaut New England team that nearly went undefeated.
The Chargers could get their wish for a rematch, while Manning could meet long-time foe Tom Brady with a victory on Sunday to advance and face the Patriots next week.
The No. 1 seed Broncos won’t have to travel East should they avenge their Week 15 loss to San Diego. Rivers fired off two touchdown passes and achieved a 120.0 passer rating while running back Ryan Matthews chugged along for 127 yards, owning a 17-minute possession advantage that handed Denver it’s only home loss of the season.
The win helped propel the Chargers into the playoffs, giving them the confidence to run the table and then trounce Cincinnati 27-10 in last week’s wild card game. San Diego finished the regular season with the league’s 29th-ranked pass defense, but forced two interceptions and recovered two Bengals fumbles in the win.
Unfortunately for Manning, the Broncos first-round bye afforded critics the time to question is 9-11 career postseason record, including eight one-and-done rounds. In his last three playoff starts, Manning has totaled five touchdowns and three interceptions, and lost all three.
In contrast, Rivers is 4-4 in eight postseason starts, totaling nine touchdowns to nine interceptions and an 81.8 passer rating.
What helps Manning and the Broncos this time around is the emergence of running Knowshon Moreno, who started all 16 games for the first time in his career and complemented his first 1,000-yard season with 10 touchdowns.
Denver’s top-ranked offense also possesses two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who combined for 25 of Manning’s record 55 touchdowns.
However, the Chargers do not lack firepower. Rivers was the NFL’s most accurate passer, and rookie Keenan Allen emerged as one of the best young targets in the game, amassing 71 receptions for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns.
No. 2 running back Danny Woodhead also recorded a career-high 76 catches for 605 yards and six touchdowns.
Injuries could also play a huge role on Sunday. The Chargers were banged up after their win last week with six players listed as questionable, including tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle), Matthews (ankle), and center Nick Hardwick (neck/concussion). The Chargers could also miss defensive end Sean Lissemore for a second straight week.
Denver’s defense has struggled against the pass all season, but took a huge blow when linebacker Von Miller went down with a torn ACL. Still, the Broncos have only listed defensive end Derek Wolfe (illness) as out for Sunday.
Betting Odds: Denver -9
Over/Under: 55 points
Time: Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Online Stream Info: CBS Sports here
Prediction: Denver 34, San Diego 27