Dec 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos strong safety Duke Ihenacho (33) and cornerback Quentin Jammer (23) combine on a tackle on San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The San Diego Chargers defeated the Denver Broncos 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

AFC Divisional Playoff Round Position-by-Position Battle: San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos


Who has the edge going into Sunday afternoon’s AFC Divisional Round game between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos? Below will tell you which team has the advantage and why.

Quarterback

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Why: Because they have the number one quarterback in the league in terms of passing yards and touchdown passes in Peyton Manning. Manning had one of his best seasons of his prestigious football career, breaking the record for most passing yards and touchdown passes in a single season with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. No disrespect to Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers who is quietly having one of his better years under former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Rivers passing percentage was 69.5% during the regular season which was first among quarterbacks in the NFL. In the last meeting with Denver, Rivers just passed the ball 20 times, completing 12 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Running Back

Advantage: San Diego Chargers

Why: I feel like the Chargers have more depth at the running back position with the likes of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, and Ronnie Brown. Mathews was a key part in the upset win over the Denver Broncos in Week 15, chewing up clock by carrying the ball 29 times for 127 yards, 4.4 yards per carry while adding a touchdown. Woodhead can create a problem for the Broncos linebackers with his ability to run or catch. He would carry the ball 9 times in their last meeting for 29 yards and also caught one pass for 13 yards. Brown is also a player to keep an eye out for as he gashed the Bengals in his limited playing time in the Wild Card game last Sunday. Brown would carry the ball 8 times for 77 yards, 9.6 yards per carry, adding a touchdown. Knowshon Moreno is coming off of a career-year rushing 241 times for 1,038 yards, adding 10 touchdowns on the ground. Montee Ball played well after getting more reps, the rookie out of Wisconsin rushed 120 times for 559 yards and 4 touchdowns. I would have put the advantage to even but the Chargers running backs have been outstanding the past couple of weeks.

Wide Receiver

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Why: This one isn’t a question. The Denver Broncos have two wide receivers over the 1,000+ yard mark in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Thomas caught 92 passes in the regular season for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns, earning himself his first Pro Bowl bid. On the other side of the field, teammate Eric Decker caught 87 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. Denver also has another weapon who they were without for the last three weeks of the season in Wes Welker. Welker would catch 73 passes in the slot for Peyton Manning for 788 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Chargers did have a balanced attack from their wide receivers including rookie Keenan Allen out of the University of California. Allen has a spectacular regular season, catching 71 passes from Phillip Rivers for 1,046 yards at an impressive 14.7 yards per catch. Former Denver Broncos slot receiver Eddie Royal was a good find for San Diego as he caught 47 passes for 631 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Tight End:

Advantage: Slight Edge to the Denver Broncos

Why: Julius Thomas has broken out and become an All-Pro NFL Tight-End. Thomas has turned into what the Broncos believed he could become all along, something the Broncos have been missing from the tight-end position since Shannon Sharpe. He is the type /;of tight-end that can be reliable and extraordinary after the catch. Thomas would catch 65 passes this season for 788 yards, 12.1 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns; third among NFL tight-ends behind the Saints Jimmy Graham (16) and the 49ers Vernon Davis (13). Thomas gave the Denver Broncos four players with 10+ touchdowns or more. Antonio Gates has been a pro ever since the day he came into the league. Gates is similar to Thomas in that they both played college basketball and have unbelievable athleticism. Gates would end up catching 77 passes this season which was the most on the Chargers, for 872 yards and four touchdowns. San Diego also has another tight-end that they like going forward with in Ladarius Green. Green would catch 17 passes for 376 yards, 22.1 yards per catch and 3 touchdowns.

Offensive Line

Advantage: Slight Edge to the Denver Broncos

Why: The free-agent signing of former San Diego Chargers guard Louis Vasquez. Vasquez has been outstanding on an offensive line with Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, and Orlando Franklin. Vasquez was rewarded with his play this season as he was selected to the Pro Bowl. The Denver Broncos ranked 1st in the NFL in the fewest sacks allowed, which could be contributed to Peyton Manning’s quick release, as they gave up just 20 sacks. San Diego’s offensive line played particularly well, giving up just 30 sacks which was 8th in the NFL. San Diego’s offensive line is built for the run as they had the third most yards per carry in the NFL with 4.26. Rookie out of Alabama D.J. Fluker has done a good job this season anchoring this young Chargers offensive line and protecting quarterback Phillip Rivers.

Defensive Line

Advantage: Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos would sign another former Charger in Shaun Phillips after a tax machine debacle with defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Phillips played well for Denver with 35 total tackles, 28 solo as he would collect 10.0 sacks on the season. Phillips would also record an interception with 15 pass deflections. Malik Jackson was a huge surprise for this Denver defense as well, collecting 42 total tackles and 30 solo, recording 6.0 sacks. The Broncos were ranked 8th in the NFL in opposing rushing yards allowed per game with just 101.6 yards per game behind free agent signing Terrance Knighton. Knighton clogged the hole for the Broncos, collecting 31 total tackles and 3.0 sacks. San Diego ranks 23rd in the NFL with sacks where defensive tackle Corey Liuget leads the team. Liuget collected 5.5 sacks during the regular season with 3 tackles for a loss and 42 total tackles.

Linebackers

Advantage: Even

Why: Both teams have excellent linebacking cores, starting with San Diego. Donald Butler was a third-round pick for San Diego and has turned into a gem. The former Washington Huskie has 84 total tackles which is second on the team, along with 4 tackles for a loss and 5 pass deflections. The rookie Manti Te’o has fared well in his first-year in the NFL, sitting at 5th on the team in total tackles with 61 while acquiring 7 tackles for a loss and 4 pass deflections. For the Broncos, their linebackers sit at one and two on the team’s defense for tackles. Danny Trevathan collected a whopping 128 total tackles, 87 solo. He would also sack the quarterback 2.0 times and had 7 tackles for a loss. The captain Wesley Woodyard was second on the team with 84 total tackles with 4 tackles for a loss and 4 pass deflections.

Secondary

Advantage: Even

Why: Both teams are shaky at defending the pass while Denver is 27th in the league in opponent pass yards per game at 254.4 while San Diego is 29th with 258.7. Chris Harris and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie are both playing at high levels with Champ Bailey getting in on nickel packages. Harris has 65 total tackles, 58 solo with 13 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. Rodgers-Cromartie has just 31 total tackles with 25 solo, but has 15 pass deflections with 3 interceptions as well. Last time San Diego played, they picked on rookie Kayvon Webster, staying away from Harris and Rodgers-Cromartie. Eric Weddle has been a man among boys in the Chargers secondary, collecting 115 total tackles with 88 solo and 10 pass deflections. He also has one sack, 4 tackles for a loss and 2 interceptions. Third-year pro Marcus Gilchrist has come on for San Diego as he is third on the team with 77 total tackles, but has 5 pass deflections and 2 interceptions.

Kicker

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Why: Matt Prater was near perfection this season for the Denver Broncos. The kicker would knock down 25-of-26 field goals, 96.2% percent and went a perfect 75-for-75 on extra points. Prater would also receive his first Pro Bowl selection. Here are his stats:

1-19 yards out: 2-2, 100.0% percent.

20-29 yards out: 4-4, 100.0% percent.

30-39 yards out: 5-5, 100.0% percent.

40-49 yards out: 8-8, 100.0% percent.

50+: 6-7, 85.7% percent.

Including an NFL record 64-yard field goal he made against the Tennessee Titans.

Special Teams

Advantage: San Diego Chargers

Why: The Denver Broncos special teams have been off and on this season. Wild card Trindon Holliday has a kick and punt return for a touchdown but has struggled of late with fumbling issues and hasn’t had the same impact on returns. If you recall, Denver lost the game against New England on a punt where Wes Welker made a notion not to touch the ball but teammate Tony Carter accidentally made contact with it, setting New England up for the game-winning field goal.

Game:

Advantage: Denver Broncos

Denver will not take the San Diego Chargers lightly this time around and need to get the offense going right away. Denver will have slot receiver Wes Welker back for the game which creates mismatches on the defense in having to guard four-elite pass catchers. San Diego has been running the ball well exceptionally late which will cause problems for the 8th ranked team in stopping the run. Denver will need to take care of the ball in order to win, things they struggled with in losses to Indianapolis and New England. San Diego does have the momentum however as they are winners of five-straight, but could be running out of adrenalin. If San Diego wants to win the game they need to take care of the ball along with keeping Manning off of the field, which they did in Week 15.

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Tags: Denver Broncos

  • anon76returns

    I think you should have gone ahead with ranking the running backs even. It’s debatable whether Mathews has been better than Knowshon in running (Moreno’s certainly been better in the passing game), Ball is a bigger threat running than Woodhead, and I think Hillman is a pretty good receiving threat as well. But the big thing is that Mathews looks to be having injury issues with his ankles, which means that in this game the Broncos are definitely no worse than even on the running back front.

    • Andrew Dill

      Thanks for the comment, I gave the Chargers the edge because of how effective they were of late against the Broncos in Week 15 and against the Bengals in the Wild Card Round. Moreno/Ball have the better talent than Mathews/Woodhead/Brown, but it’s about what have they done lately.

  • LTGray

    For Matt Prater, you could have broken down the FG stats with one more category:
    50-59 yards out: 5-6, 83.3%
    60+ yards out: 1-1, 100%

  • bronncohowie

    Moreno/Ball 1600 yards and 14 rushing TDs, they have the advantage. For SD Mathews is hurt and Brown got his yardage on ONE RUN after the Bengals gave up. Woodhead is easily covered by Trevathian or a safety. SD won’t control the ball this time.

    • Andrew Dill

      Thanks for the comment, the only reason I gave SD the edge was the way they pounded on Denver last time. Denver couldn’t get anywhere on the ground as they mustered just 18 yards. I agree with you this time will be different.