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San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos Preview and Prediction

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning

Week 8 of the NFL slate kicks off with tonight’s AFC West divisional matchup between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos on CBS/NFL Network. This game features a pair of MVP-candidate quarterbacks in San Diego’s Philip Rivers (17 TDs, three INTs) and Denver’s Peyton Manning (510 career TD passes).

Last season, the Chargers played the Broncos better than just about any team this side of the Seahawks. All three meetings between the two were one-score margins, with Denver winning on the road 28–20 in Week 10, San Diego winning at Sports Authority Field at Mile High 27–20 in Week 15 and the Broncos earning a 24–17 victory in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. The Bolts did not fare as well against the Broncos in 2012, losing 35–24 at home in Week 6 and 30–23 in Week 11.

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS/NFL Network

Spread: Denver -8

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Three Things to Watch

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1. Back to Work for Peyton Manning

Manning hasn't had much time to savor his newly minted record for career touchdown passes, but chances are pretty good that he'll add to that record in this game. Manning has thrown touchdowns in each of his 11 meetings with the Chargers, including a total of eight in the three games in which these teams met last season. Manning's Broncos avenged a December loss to the Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High by dispatching San Diego a few weeks later in the playoffs. During his Broncos tenure, Manning is 4-1 against the Chargers, but he knows that the familiarity cuts both ways. "We're playing a great team in the Chargers, a team we're very familiar with, as they are with us," Manning said. "They beat us last year, so we got to get ready on this short week."

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2. Freeney vs. Manning

For nine years, Dwight Freeney and Peyton Manning were highly successful teammates in Indianapolis. Finally, Freeney gets a chance to attack the former Colt like he's attacked quarterbacks across the league throughout his career. Freeney leads the team with 14 quarterback hits and 12 pressures, and he's sixth among active players with 110.0 career sacks. "It should be interesting,” Freeney told Chargers.com. “But it should be good.  It’s going to be a little bit different for me because I’m used to having him on the same team, but it should be fun.  I’m excited to see what’s going to happen with it.  2011 was the last time I’ve actually seen him.  In practice you go against the guys all the time but you obviously don’t hit them. I’ll tell you what though; I’m not laying up against him!  It’s going to be an experience I’ll never forget."

3. Playing Keep-away

Following Manning's record-setting touchdown pass, a couple of his teammates engaged in a playful (and scripted) game of keep-away with the football in question. The Chargers would love to play a real game of keep-away with the Broncos signal-caller. The formula worked in last December's win in Denver, when Ryan Mathews rushed for 129 yards and the Chargers held the ball for more than 38 minutes. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich wouldn't mind seeing a repeat performance. "We want to be on the field as much as we can,” he said. “We want to play our game. And that is our game. Our game is convert on third down, mix it with the run and pass, be efficient and score touchdowns in the red zone." In Mathews’ absence while he nurses a knee injury, look for Branden Oliver to get plenty of chances. Oliver has rushed for 282 yards on 60 carries the last three weeks. 

Final Analysis

The weekend gets off to a strong start with this matchup of division rivals off to strong starts. Denver is riding high following its best performance of the season, a 42–17 win over San Francisco, while San Diego was lackluster in a loss to Kansas City. In addition, the Broncos' run defense is much improved this season, which could hamper the Chargers’ ball-control ambitions. 

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Prediction: Denver 31, San Diego 21