There is something to be said about the success Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos had last year. Manning had a phenomenal comeback, but the fans and maybe even the team expected too much from his success and as a result they may have gone into the playoffs feeling overconfident; they were used to winning.
This season something is different. Manning has dusted off those few cobwebs and now we’ve really seen what he is a capable of: breaking records. Perhaps what is also different is the motivation the team has gained from that loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season. They now know what it feels like to lose so close to a championship and as Manning said this week they have used, “that [loss] to fuel you, to make you do an extra set of sprints or an extra set of squats, whatever it may be.”
Now the Broncos are facing the opportunity that they have worked for all season: the divisional playoffs. They play the San Diego Chargers, a team who they have never faced in the playoffs, yet have played 108 times. The two will face off at Sports Authority Field at Mile High at 2:20pm (mtn).
The Chargers are coming off of a impressive 27-10 win against the favorite Cincinnati Bengals. The theory of overconfidence hopefully has already taken place, considering the Broncos beat the Chargers in week 10 and lost in the last home game of the season, their only home loss. Coming off of that loss against the Chargers will hopefully fuel their motivation even more.
The biggest factor in that loss was that the Chargers were able to keep Manning off the field. They held the Broncos to their lowest point total (20) of the season as well as their lowest time of possession at 21 minutes when they average 30. They also limited Manning to his lowest rating (92.4) in that loss.
There was also the factor of one of Denver’s biggest receiving assets, Wes Welker, being out. This will be his first game back since suffering his second concussion of the season and having him back after having so much time to recover should prove to be invaluable.
Maybe it was Welker being out that threw off the offensive beat considering the Broncos only had 295 yards compared to their 457.3 average. Andre Caldwell was the receiving leader with only 59 yards and two touchdowns, and the next best receiver was running back Montee Ball. On the ground Denver only had 18 yards total, their lowest of the season.
Keeping Manning and Co. on the field as much as possible means having the defense effectively shut down the San Diego offense. Denver was ranked seventh in their rushing defense for the regular season and didn’t have as tight of a ground game against the Chargers in their loss, allowing 177 yards. They have had 18 forced fumbles this season, seventh in the league. They need to really implement that in order to stop Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead.
The most obvious weakness in the Broncos D is against the pass. They have put decent pressure on quarterbacks with 41 sacks this season which is fairly average. Their backfield is the hindrance. Being that Champ Bailey is now healthy and has had time to heal, he will be a big asset. Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie need to stick to the edges of the field specifically.
With the bad taste of last season in our mouths, I may speak for all fans when I say we don’t want to get our hopes up too much because we know how bad this could end. As stated in my article last week, it is rare when the best team actually goes all the way; however, with the heart, drive and talent that this team has it is hard to imagine them not going all the way.
Denver Broncos 31 vs San Diego Chargers 24