Peyton Manning is beginning to find his groove, while Philip Rivers is still trying to figure out how they lost in New Orleans. This week the two quarterbacks square off under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Let's take a closer look at why I like the Broncos to come out on top.
This is a game that the sportsbooks haven't wanted to mess with very much. The Chargers were favored by 2.5 in the Summer and also in the look ahead line last week. It reopened very briefly at -3 on Sunday night, but sharp money immediately pounced on Denver at the key number. That was a smart grab, because I don't think San Diego is the better team at the moment. The current number sits at -1.5 to -1 depending where you shop.
When breaking down this match-up, there four key areas to look at that all favor the Broncos.
When comparing these two offenses statistically, the Broncos come out on top. This includes rushing, passing, pass blocking, drive success, and red zone efficiency. Denver has put up good numbers consistently week in and week out. Yes, they did have to battle back against the Texans, Falcons, and Patriots, but they had a real chance to pull off the upset in two of those games. Peyton Manning was a big unknown coming into the season, but after five weeks it's clear he's still got game. As the year unfolds, the rhythm and timing that is so important to his system is only going to improve.
Strength of Schedule
San Diego have been average offensively, but what makes this comparison worse is the level of defenses the Chargers have faced. Thus far, the Falcons are the only "tough" defense San Diego has faced all year. The other four defenses they've lined up against are among the 10 worst in the NFL. You would expect much better numbers given the kind of talent on that side of the ball.
In contrast, the same story plays out defensively. The Denver defense has faced three of the top seven offenses, and four of the top 14. The Chargers defense has been shredded by both good offenses they have faced - Falcons and Saints. Even with the strength of schedule discrepancy, the Broncos defense grades out higher.
At first glance, there is a notable turnover differential between these two teams. This might be a red flag for some, but a closer look reveals a lot of Denver's turnovers have come from lost fumbles, which is a lot more random than interceptions. Three of those fumbles occurred in the offensive red zone. If I'm the Broncos, this isn't an area that I'm too concerned about. Fumbles usually regress to the mean within a season.
In the Trenches
Who can pass protect? This is an area that really favors Denver. We saw last week that Jared Gaither can't stay healthy, and that will be vital if they hope to contain the likes of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. San Diego rank near the bottom of the league in pass blocking, while Denver rank in the top 10. The same contrast exists when rushing the passer. The Broncos rank near the top, while the Chargers are near the bottom.
On paper, this appears like an even match-up, but once we dig into the stats a little more it becomes apparent very quickly which team comes out on top. The Broncos have been more consistent, and faced tougher opponents. In fact, one could argue that Denver has lost to the best three teams in football right now. Look for Denver to win the battle in the trenches, and ultimately win the game.
NFL Pick: DEN +1.5.