Both the Broncos and Chargers made the postseason last year. Denver controlled the AFC West for most of the season, starting 6-0, finishing 13-3, and using home field advantage to reach the Super Bowl.
San Diego needed wins and help down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs. They posted four straight victories to end the year and, with losses in week 17 by Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Miami, the Chargers punched their ticket to the NFL’s second season.
Heading into week 14, the same situation looks to be playing out again: Denver (9-3, 4-0 AFC West) leads the division, while San Diego (8-4, 2-2 AFC West) needs to keep winning to return to the postseason. In week 15, San Diego will look to flip the script by beating Denver and challenging for the division title.
In week 8, the Broncos beat the Chargers (35-21) at Mile High. The Chargers committed the only two turnovers in the game and Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders caught nine passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos went eight for 13 on third down and Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers threw two interceptions to go along with three touchdowns. Last year, the teams split two meetings with both teams winning one score games on the road.
The Broncos are 3-3 on the road straight up and against the spread this year. They beat Kansas City (29-16) in week 13 after falling at St. Louis (22-7) in week 11. They crushed the Raiders in Oakland (41-17) and dominated the Jets in New York (31-17), but got beat by three scores in New England (43-21), and lost in overtime at Seattle (26-20). Quarterback Peyton Manning is completing well over 70% of his passes at home and is rarely picked off in Denver, but hits on just over 62% on the road and has seven interceptions to go along with 15 scores.
If the Chargers are going to recreate their late-season success from last year and grab a playoff spot, they are going to earn it. They face a murderer’s row of opponents to end the season and need at least three (maybe four) wins in their final five games.
The Chargers started strong last weekend, pulling out an epic 34-33 comeback in Baltimore on the strength of two touchdowns in the final four minutes. Before facing the Broncos, they host the AFC-leading Patriots at Qualcomm. Following the matchup with Denver, San Diego travels to San Francisco and Kansas City to end the season.
The win over the Ravens in Baltimore was the quality victory the Chargers had been searching for since they beat Seattle in week 2. Since that time, San Diego had struggled against plus-.500 teams, losing to K.C., Denver, and Miami, while winning at Buffalo. Within their division, the Chargers have only managed to beat the lowly Raiders so far.
The week 15 matchup with the Broncos will provide an opportunity to remedy that, though trumping Peyton may be harder than swallowing Buckleys.
(Photo credit: Jeffrey Beal; (flickr) “In Pursuit of Rivers” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].)