Cincinnati was blown out at home by San Diego and that means the Denver Broncos will play the Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs.
This is terrible news for the Broncos.
Out of all the teams that the Broncos could have played, the Chargers are the most dangerous. Indianapolis is hot right now, but they still lack consistent playmakers outside of Robert Mathis and Andrew Luck. The Broncos would have had a difficult time shutting the Colts’ offense down, but I am confident that they could have done it by putting extra coverage on T.Y. Hilton. Likewise, the Broncos could have handled Kansas City by putting an extra focus on the Chiefs’ run game (with or without Jamaal Charles) and by having a linebacker spy Alex Smith.
But no, the football gods were determined to send San Diego back to Denver for a second time this year. I know that Broncos fans are shell shocked from last year’s playoff loss and that I might be overreacting, but I am horrified about this matchup.
Quietly, the Chargers have put up the league’s fifth-ranked rushing offense and the fourth-ranked passing offense. Keenan Allen had an off day on Sunday, but he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL this season, and Danny Woodhead is sneaky good. Ryan Mathews torched the Denver defense last time the two teams played each other, and this time around the Broncos won’t have Von Miller.
The San Diego defense just shut down one of the most dynamic offenses in the game in their home stadium (the Bengals didn’t lose a game at home in the regular season) forcing four turnovers in the process. Peyton Manning is a much, much better quarterback than Andy Dalton, but every time San Diego comes into Denver they play at a much higher level than they normally do. I think that Manning will have success (the screen game worked well for the Bengals, I expect Adam Gase and Manning to try to exploit that with Moreno and if they do it should work well) but it’s far from a guarantee that the offense operates on their normal level.
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Mike McCoy used to be the Broncos’ offensive coordinator. That fact may not seem important, but head coaches tend to have success against their former teams in big games. When Jon Gruden coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against his former team the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl 37, he dominated them. I’m not saying that the Chargers will win because of the McCoy-Denver connection, but it has to help San Diego that their coach knows the ins and outs of Peyton Manning’s game.
Do I think that the Broncos can win? Yes. If Manning comes firing out of the gate (the forecast for next Sunday is as favorable as it could possibly be for January in Denver; 30-40’s with low wind and 0 percent precipitation) the Broncos will probably win. I think the Chargers are a great team, but I’m not sure any team in the NFL can beat the Broncos when their offense is firing on all cylinders. However, weird things happen in the playoffs, and I’m nervous that this game won’t go Denver’s way.
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