This Thursday night game has all the makings of a shootout as the Chargers take the road to face the Broncos. Sitting at 6-7, this has the makings of a must win for the Chargers as they fight for the sixth spot in the AFC. One main reason for the Chargers being in contention up to this point has been the rejuvenated Philip Rivers. After a few rough seasons, Rivers is playing like the quarterback fans became accustomed to. He is among the league leaders in yards with 3,882 and touchdowns with 26.
It helps that the team has improved their offensive line and have been able to build a more stable running attack. Ryan Mathews looks to be on his way to a 1,000 yard season as he currently has 885 on the year. Talent was never an issue for him but it looks like he is tapping into his potential. The offseason addition of Danny Woodhead has already had great return on investment. Woodhead has taken over the void the Chargers have had since Darren Sproles left and along with being a change of pace in the running game, has 65 receptions on the year.
It’s possible Rivers also has his best receiving corps since Vincent Jackson was paired up with a younger Antonio Gates. The emergence of Keenan Allen as the number one receiver has been a huge plus. Allen as a rookie already has some veteran qualities to his game in his route running and has shown willingness to go over the middle. For that reason, he is on pace for over 1,000 yards this year and could very well cross that plateau in the game. Gates has continued to put up numbers as he gets older but has been quite of late as defenses continue to key in on him. Another young player to keep an eye on is Gates’ heir apparent in Ladarius Green. At 6’6 240 with 4.4 speed, Green has already shown he can make an impact averaging 22 yards a catch on the year. He is still very raw, but the Chargers have made an effort to get him more involved in recent weeks.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, they struggle against the pass and now have to go up against the potent Broncos offense. Peyton Manning’s numbers of 4,522 yards and 45 touchdowns are ridiculous for a full season let alone with three games to go. There is a very good chance Manning’s 2013 goes down as the best regular season for a quarterback we have ever seen. Due to this, running back Knowshon Moreno has been able to post his best season as a pro since being a first round pick in 2009. With 1,365 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns at a point where many were starting to view him as a bust, its possible Moreno is the Bronco whose career has benefited the most from Manning.
In terms of the receiving corps, this may be the best Manning has ever had and that really says something. Demaryius Thomas leads the pack with 1,149 yards and 11 touchdowns and at 6’3 229 with the ability to create after the catch and his speed is a matchup nightmare. Eric Decker has been on a tear his past two games combining for 291 yards and five touchdowns. With Wes Welker out due to a concussion, he should continue to see more targets against a Chargers pass defense.
When Welker went down, tight end Jacob Tamme took his place in the slot. Tamme is familiar with Manning due to their days together with the Colts and his four catches for 47 yards after Welker’s departure last week shows he could be involved. On top of all that, you have Julius Thomas another former basketball playing tight end healthy. Thomas is having his breakout season with 625 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year.
While Rivers and company should be able to move the ball on the Broncos vulnerable secondary and put up points. The real question is if the defense can get any stops. The Chargers are 28th in the league against the pass and don’t have the depth to cover all of Manning’s weapons. This one should be closely contested, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Broncos just start taking the game over in the fourth quarter. My prediction is Chargers 27 Broncos (-10.5) 38.