The Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers will do battle at Sports Authority Field on Thursday night, in a game full of playoff implications.
The 11-2 Broncos have already clinched a playoff berth but can wrap up the AFC West with a win and a loss by the Kansas City Chiefs to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. If Denver wins its last three games of the regular season, the Broncos wrap up the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
San Diego is much more desperate. At 6-7, the Chargers likely need to win out and then get help with losses by the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins. Should San Diego lose and the Miami win, the Chargers would be eliminated from postseason contention.
Meet the Chargers
The Chargers rely heavily on Philip Rivers to keep the team afloat. The former North Carolina State star is enjoying perhaps the best season of his career, completing a league-high 70.3 percent of his passes. Rivers has thrown for 3,882 yards and 26 touchdowns against only nine interceptions.
Rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen has been the primary target for Rivers, catching 61 passes for 902 yards and five scores. Antonio Gates has also been enjoying somewhat of a resurgence, hauling in 68 balls for 776 yards. Running back Ryan Mathews has been potent out of the backfield, rushing for 885 yards on 4.3 yards per carry.
Defensively, few teams in the league have had more issues. The Chargers rank 28th against the pass and 19th versus the run, Thomas Keiser and Corey Liuget are tied for team lead with 4.5 sacks, showing ability to rush the quarterback. Safety Eric Weddle leads the team in tackles by 30, totaling 93 on the year.
Meet the Broncos
Gee, where should we start? Peyton Manning is probably a good choice. Manning is setting the league on fire, leading the NFL with 4,522 passing yards and 45 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. One of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play, Manning is proving he is better than ever at 36 years old.
Of course, Manning has plenty of help. Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas each have 11 touchdowns while Wes Welker has hauled in 10. Eric Decker has eight scores, and if he reaches double-digits it will be the first time in league history that four receivers on one team have eclipsed 10 or more in a season.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan has been a consistent performer on defense, pacing the team with 104 tackles. Surprisingly, he also has a team-high three interceptions. Shaun Phillips is quietly putting together a very nice year with nine sacks, while Von Miller has five in only seven games.
Local take: San Diego
Richard Wade of Bolts From The Blue wrote about the sensational rookie season of Keenan Allen:
Allen's season total of 61 receptions surpassed LaDainian Tomlinson's franchise rookie record of 59 set in 2001. This is made all the more impressive by the fac that Allen didn't reach double digits in targets until week 5 as well as the fact that he still has three games left to play, and he has become the focal point of the offense the last three weeks. Luckily, Allen got to set this new record in front of a home crowd and, better still, in a victory.
Local take: Denver
Over at Mile High Report, there is reaction to the idea of linebacker Wesley Woodyard being demoted:
Wesley Woodyard is infinitely more talented than Paris Lenon, younger, and more athletic. Then again yesterday we had Omar Bolden playing most of the game in centerfield, and costing the Broncos points on badly played coverage and poor tackling angles. No reason for Bolden to have extended playing time, no reason for Lenon to have extended playing time, they simply are a liability and make our defense worse.
Follow the fun
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San Diego Chargers Daily Links: Has Kendall Reyes turned a corner? http://t.co/oHRagiZEcP— Bolts From The Blue (@BFTB_Chargers) December 10, 2013
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos: Week 15 Gameday http://t.co/c2Rjf9bu6b— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 10, 2013
San Diego is desperate to stay in the playoff hunt, but it won't matter. Denver is a juggernaut in its own building and the Chargers has the worst defense in the league. Peyton Manning could legitimately go for 400 yards and five touchdowns in this game. Philip Rivers will put up some points and move the football throughout the evening, but can he match Manning? Probably not.
Pick: Denver 42, San Diego 31
Denver is favored by 10 points at home over San Diego, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Broncos go on the road to face the hapless Houston Texans while the Chargers host the Oakland Raiders.