By Dave Thomas
When the San Diego Chargers went into Denver last month and beat the Broncos, no doubt some eyebrows were raised. Now, imagine if they do it again this Sunday.
Heading into Sunday's divisional round match up with the AFC West rival Broncos, the Bolts enter as 9.5-point underdogs, not surprising given the Chargers are the lowest seed in the conference post-season. That said, you can all but bet that Peyton Manning and the Broncos are not looking past the Chargers, a team they will play for the third time this season.
In their first meeting Nov. 10 in San Diego (10-7), Denver (13-3) got out of the gates early and cruised to a 28-20 win, holding a commanding 28-6 lead at one point. On that day, Manning threw for four touchdown passes, something that will almost assuredly spell defeat for the Chargers if that happens again this Sunday in the Mile High City.
In their rematch on Dec. 12 in Denver, San Diego opened a few eyes around the league by scoring a 27-20 victory. In that game, Manning was relegated to a sizable amount of time on the sidelines, with the Chargers playing ball control and eating up clock.
So, what can fans expect when the teams meet for the third and final time this weekend?
Broncos on a Mission
It was just last season when many around the league expected Manning to go after his second Super Bowl title—that is before Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens had other ideas. When the Ravens stunned the Broncos in Denver in an epic playoff finish, you could almost feel Manning already turning his attention to this season.
Coming into the 2013 campaign, just about no one could have predicted the Kansas City Chiefs would be 9-0 after nine games, but Andy Reid and Co. were just that...that is until they ran into the Broncos. Sweeping both games this season from their AFC West rivals, the Broncos then quickly asserted themselves as not only the team to beat in the division, but also the conference.
In edging out Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for the AFC's top spot, Denver had secured home field advantage for as long as it survives in the playoffs (two games max). While last year's loss to the Ravens showed that the Broncos are not invincible at home, they certainly have an advantage playing there, something San Diego will look to overcome in Sunday's final game of the weekend.
For the Chargers to have any chance of advancing to the AFC Championship game at either New England or Indianapolis the following Sunday, they will need to duplicate their efforts from last month. That essentially means keeping Manning off the field as much as possible, getting a strong running attack from Ryan Mathews (did not practice last two days due to ankle injury), Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown, and minimizing Manning's effectiveness when he is on the field.
While most experts likely have Denver hosting the AFC title game a week from this Sunday, a loose and confident Chargers squad may have something else to say when all is said and done.
As for injuries, the Chargers go into the game with the following noteworthy issues from Thursday's practice session:
- Jeromey Clary - Guard/tackle (shoulder) - did not practice
- King Dunlap - Tackle (ankle) - full practice
- D.J. Fluker - Tackle (ankle) - limited practice
- Nick Hardwick - Center (concussion) - did not practice
- Sean Lissemore - Defensive end/tackle (shoulder) - limited practice
- Ryan Mathews - Running back (ankle) - did not practice
- Kendall Reyes - Defensive end (ankle) - full practice
- Eddie Royal - Wide receiver/kick returner (toe) - did not practice
- Eric Weddle - Free safety (hamstring) - full practice
For more news and updates about the NFL Playoffs, visit NFL Playoffs Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.
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