Denver Broncos (-3.5, 45 o/u) at San Diego Chargers
Through five weeks in the NFL, we’re beginning to get a good read on each team, or at least we think so anyways. That is until next week when one contender makes us question their legitimacy, and a team we thought was out of it begins staging their late-season surge. But we’ll just focus on the near future for now, which is Week 6, and it kicks off with a divisional matchup on Thursday night (October 13) as the Denver Broncos (4-1 SU, 4-1 ATS) head to San Diego to take on the Chargers (1-4 SU, 2-3 ATS) at Qualcomm Stadium (8:25 PM ET).
The Broncos are coming off their first loss of the 2016 season, which came at home at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons (23-16). Denver’s offensive line struggled mightily in the loss, and rookie Paxton Lynch’s first NFL start was spoiled because of it. Defensively, they can’t even celebrate holding Julio Jones to just two receptions for 29 yards because the Falcons were able to run the ball at will and torched the Broncos linebackers in coverage with Tevin Coleman (four receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown).
Fortunately for Denver, they’re getting Trevor Siemian (824 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions) back after he missed their Week 5 game with an injured shoulder. Siemian is not the only player returning to the lineup. Both Donald Stephenson and Virgil Green are expected to make their highly anticipated returns and should boost the Broncos’ dwindling rushing attack.
Although Denver is averaging 25.4 points per game (ninth), the defense deserves credit for a number of those scores. It’s routinely set up the middling offense – 16th in rushing and 25th in passing – with short fields. The Broncos defense has carried them to this point, ranking sixth in total defense and fifth in scoring, and will need to continue doing so if the team wants to claim its sixth straight division title.
Their opponent this week, the Chargers, would love to help put an end to Denver’s AFC West reign. More so, San Diego will want to end its own reign over late-game heartbreak. Four-quarter blunders have resulted in four gut-wrenching defeats in 2016. Last week, a botched game-tying field goal resulted in Philip Rivers and company falling to the Raiders, 34-31.
In spite of their poor record, the Chargers have one of the best offenses in football, ranking second in scoring (30.4 points per game), eighth in total yards, and fourth in passing. Much of that can be attributed to Rivers’ excellence: 1,469 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 108.4 passer rating.
Unfortunately, their defense has not followed suit. The unit ranks 28th in scoring and 23rd in total defense. However, first-round pick Joey Bosa made his NFL debut last week and performed very well, recording two sacks and three tackles-for-loss on just 27 snaps. The Chargers will need Bosa to continue making a difference, as their defense has been depleted by injuries (much like their offense).
San Diego will look for Bosa to do what Vic Beasley did to the Broncos offense last week: disrupt everything. Even with Donald Stephenson back at right tackle, Bosa’s motor and ability to rush the passer are far superior to that of Beasley. If Denver decides to pay extra attention to Bosa, it will only open the door up for guys like Melvin Ingram. Keeping Denver’s offense off the field will be crucial, as it will allow Rivers to chip away at the Bronco defense and wear them down as the game goes on.
Rivers has done such a phenomenal job of spreading the ball around all season (11 different players have a catch, and six of those have at least ten receptions), and has protected it very well, too. With a much better line in front of him than last year, he will actually have a little bit of time to find open receivers against the vaunted Broncos pass rush. That time will allow him to exploit the Bronco linebackers in coverage, just as Atlanta was able to. Look for Dexter McCluster to receive an inflated number of snaps as a result.
The return of Trevor Siemian will only bring the Broncos offense back to mediocrity, and they won’t be able to pull away from the high-powered Chargers offense. Denver may come out on top, but it will be on the leg of Brandon McManus in the dying seconds.
Pick: Chargers +3.5.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].