Playoff paths could be determined later this afternoon when the Denver Broncos take on the San Diego Chargers on CBS. For the Broncos (10-3), it’s pretty simple – a win clinches a fourth straight AFC West title. The Chargers (8-5) meanwhile may need to win to just stay in the postseason discussion. Entering today’s action, eight teams were separated by one game in the fight for the two Wild Card spots in the AFC.
Denver has won six of the past seven meetings against its longtime division rival and four out of the last five played in San Diego. The Broncos beat the Chargers 35-21 in Week 8 behind three Peyton Manning-to-Emmanuel Sanders touchdowns and 109 yards rushing from Ronnie Hillman, who has missed the past four games with a foot sprain.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -4.5
[inline_team_schedule team-id=14 date=20141106 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
Denver’s Key to Victory: Stick to the Script
Don’t look now, but the pass-happy Broncos have become a running team. Since losing in St. Louis 22-7 in Week 11, Denver has thrown for 596 yards and run for 548 over its past three games (all wins). Two weeks ago, the Broncos had more yards on the ground (214) than through the air (174) in their 29-16 win in Kansas City and last week, Peyton Manning’s streak of 51 straight games with a touchdown pass came to an end in a 24-17 victory over Buffalo. C.J. Anderson has been the catalyst behind the Denver’s rejuvenated running game, totaling 365 yards rushing and four touchdowns over the last three games. San Diego enters this game 14th in the NFL against the run (108.4 ypg) and gave up 139 on the ground in its Week 8 loss in Denver. The Broncos can still cause plenty of damage through the air, but they also have shown they can beat teams without relying on Manning’s arm. With the playoffs looming and the success it has already produced, there’s no reason to veer from the run-heavy approach now. Not to mention the possibility of an effective running game giving a future Hall of Fame quarterback an off-balance defense to operate against.
[inline_team_schedule team-id=17 date=20141106 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
San Diego’s Key to Victory: Take the Offensive
Even with Denver’s recent run-heavy game plan, the Broncos are still capable of putting points on the scoreboard. Denver enters this afternoon’s game ranked fifth in the league with 29.6 points per game. Contrast that to San Diego, who is tied for 14th at 22.5. The Chargers are 7-0 when they score at least 22 points and 8-1 when totaling at least 300 yards of offense. Ironically, the one game they lost was a 35-21 Week 8 decision to the Broncos, but San Diego also was outgained 425-306 in that contest. The Chargers’ running game has struggled, totaling 224 yards rushing in the last four games combined, but that may not matter considering Denver’s defense ranks second (72.8 ypg) in this department. Instead, the best plan of attack may be to let Philip Rivers air it out with Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal on the receiving end of his throws. In all seven games in which San Diego has scored 22 or more points this season, Rivers has had at least 250 yards passing. Just because the Broncos aren’t throwing the ball over the field doesn’t mean the Chargers have to stay grounded.
Denver’s playoff path is pretty straightforward – win and the Broncos are in as AFC West champions. San Diego’s is a little more complicated, as the Chargers may need to win out to secure one of the Wild Card spots with so many teams bunched together. There’s no dispute the Chargers need this game more, but the Broncos have had their number lately and also have found a new way to win games. C.J. Anderson and the running game does most of the heavy lifting, but Peyton Manning deals the finishing touch, as the Broncos deal the Chargers’ playoff hopes a big blow and win a fourth straight division title in the process.