Monday Night Football: Broncos vs Chargers
This week’s MNF action will feature a meeting of two AFC West rivals, as the Denver Broncos visit the San Diego Chargers in a battle for first place in the division. For those worried about the possible blackout, worry no more: the San Diego Chargers announced on Friday that they have sold enough tickets to lift the local blackout for the game. AccuScore simulations project a SD win 55 percent of the time, and have them covering the point spread (SD -1) close to 54 percent of the time. The two teams are evenly matched, and neither side will dominate the other. Who wins this game comes down to how well the San Diego defense limits big plays by Peyton and the Denver offense.
Denver (2-3) is coming off a loss to the New England Patriots, 31-21, where a fourth quarter comeback attempt fell short. The Broncos are currently rank fifth in passing yard (287.2 yards), and 17th in rushing yards per game (101.2 yards). We’ve seen that QB Peyton Manning can still throw at a high level, but the fear now is that the team chemistry won’t be established in time to make a run at the playoffs. Manning has been completing 66 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 11 TDs and only 3 INTs. All three of the interceptions actually came in one game, when Manning had a rough start against the Falcons and threw three in his first eight attempts. San Diego is top five in the league at stopping the run, putting some extra pressure on Manning. His go-to guys this season have been WR Demaryius Thomas (30 REC, 5 TD, 505 yards) and WR Eric Decker (28 REC, 2 TD, 343 yards). The Chargers have the 20th ranked passing defense.
Manning has a history of stepping up in the right situations, and this seems to be one of those. He’s taking a 2-3 team into a divisional rival, with the potential to get back to .500 instead of falling down 2-4 early in the season. He’ll face the 20th-rank pass defense, and should have no trouble throwing multiple TDs and getting 250-300 yards. AccuScore projects 281 yards, 2 TDS and a QB rating of 104.1.
On the other side, the matchup for San Diego QB Philip Rivers is a bit more unfavorable. Mike Klis of the Denver Post says the Chargers may want to copy what the New England Patriots against the Denver defense just last week: “When the Broncos defeated Pittsburgh in the season opener, they ran 55 plays. The Patriots ran 89 plays in their 31-21 victory against the Broncos last Sunday. Add in the eight penalties called when the Patriots had the ball, and Brady took 97 snaps — almost double the 53 plays Oakland got off the previous week against Denver.
In the past, Rivers has had tremendous success against the Broncos, averaging 235.5 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions in those 13 games. His 102.7 QB rating against the Broncos is the best of any team that he has faced at least five times. Last week against the New Orleans Saints, Rivers went 27-42 through the air for 354 yards with two TDs and 1 INT. So far this year, he has passed the ball for 1,251 yards, 8 TDs and 5 INTs, while completing 68 percent of his passes. Malcolm Floyd leads the SD receivers with 20 catches, 358 yards, and 1 TD. TE Antonio Gates, who has historically had big games against Denver, has 13 catches for 112 yards so far this season. The primary deep threat is WR Robert Meachem, who has 9 catches, 159 yards and 2 TDs so far. The Broncos line (especially DE’s Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe) has to attack Rivers early, because he will absolutely shred the defense if given enough time in the pocket. AccuScore projects 281 yards, 2 TDs, and a QB rating of 101.4 for Rivers.
While the San Diego defense makes its plays primarily by stopping the run, Denver’s defense has the potential to be a nuisance for Rivers and the passing game. Denver is 11th in the league in passing defense, but 21st in rushing defense. RB Ryan Matthews, who missed the first few weeks of the season, has 36 carries for 185 yards (5.1 yards per attempt). RB Jackie Battle has 173 yards on 36 attempts (4.8 yards per attempt). The Chargers have the 16th ranked rushing offense in the league, and they will need to get the running attack going early to give Rivers options later in the game. We know Rivers can throw the ball, and throw it well, but a lack of any ground game early will make it practically impossible to get receivers open down the field.
If there is only one thing the Denver defense has to focus on, it’s their third-down performance. As of right now, the Broncos rank No. 28 in third-down defense, allowing their opponents to convert 46.7 percent of those attempts. Keep this in mind tomorrow, Rivers definitely will.
AccuScore simulations project an average score of 27-25 in favor of San Diego, with 60 percent of the simulations going over the over/under of 47.5. While the data points to a SD victory, the quality of opponents Denver has played sticks out to me (Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston, and New England). They have had strong second halves, and managed to keep it close against some of the league’s best teams. Denver does not want San Diego to get a two game lead in the division; I’m predicting a 24-20 Denver win.