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Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

2008 AFC WEST TITLE

12/28/08

In my last couple Charger write-ups, I mentioned the potential for this last game of the season between San Diego and Denver to be for all the marbles in the AFC West division. I canít believe it actually played out that way though, since the Chargers had to win 3 in a row and the Broncos had to lose 2 of their last 3. It doesnít surprise me that Denver lost 2 of 3, but I figured that last road game at Tampa Bay would not likely be a winnable game for San Diego. But not only did they win that game, they did so in rather dominating fashion.


San Diego QB Philip Rivers and WR Vincent Jackson had the Charger passing game clicking last Sunday in Tampa, as Rivers completed nearly 68% of his attempts (21 of 31) for 287 yds and 4 TDís, while Jackson hauled in 7 passes for 111 yds. Rivers also used his tight ends to good advantage as Antonio Gates grabbed 4 passes for 43 yds and broke a 5 game streak without a score with 2 TD receptions. Backup TE Brandon Manumaleuna also got in on the action, scoring on an 11 yd catch to open the scoring in the 1st quarter. RB LaDanian Tomlinson was a serviceable 21 carries for 90 yds and his understudy Darren Sproles added a TD on a 32 yd catch and run.


The Charger offense looked sharp from the start in jumping out to a quick 17-7 lead, and went into the half up 20-10. But the defense couldnít hold the lead as they gave up two 3rd Q drives of nearly 80 yds each to let the Bucs take a 24-20 lead into the final quarter. But the Charger offense continued to click in the 4th Q, scoring twice more on drives of 63 and 46 yds to go up by 10 with just 7 minutes left. And then their defense stepped up big too, returning an errant pass by Buc QB Jeff Garcia 59 yds for a TD to turn the game into a rout, and likely ending Tampa Bayís postseason hopes.


So the Chargers now have their first 3-game winning streak of the year, and a win this week over Denver will give them the AFC West title.

But Denver could have made this a meaningless game had they been able to take care of business at home last week vs the visiting Buffalo Bills. And early on it looked as if they would, as Denver jumped out to a 13-0 lead after scoring on their first 3 possessions of the game. The Bronco offense was clicking on all cylinders, with two 80+ yd drives and a 53 yd drive. resulting in a TD and 2 FGís, and using up nearly 14 of the games first 17 minutes. But then the Buffalo offense started to move the ball at will, scoring 16 unanswered pts to take a 16-13 lead late in the 3rd Q. Bronco QB Jay Cutler then led his offense on a 9-play, 84 yd drive to retake the lead at 20-16 entering the final quarter. But Buffalo went 72 yds in just 5 plays to retake the lead again. Another Matt Prater FG tied the game at 23-23 with 11 minutes remaining. But Buffalo got a great return on the ensuing kickoff and only had to go 45 yds to take the lead again at 30-23. Denver was unable to capitalize on 2 more drives deep into Buffalo territory, with Cutler getting picked off at the 1 yd line, and then turning the ball over on downs.


Denver actually out-yarded the Bills 532-275, held a 6:30 minute advantage in time-of-possession, ran 21 more plays and had 7 more FDís. But they gave Buffalo a short field for most of the game and couldnít score when it mattered.

Denver should be able to move the ball on San Diego also. The Chargers have had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL all year. Yes their stats do look good over their recent 3 game winning streak, but look at who theyíve played. In the win over Oakland, JaMarcus Russell was terrible, and when he got knocked out of the game Andrew Walter was just as bad. Then they got Kansas City in terrible weather, followed by a hobbled Jeff Garcia, who is just an average QB even when healthy.


Jay Cutler and the Bronco pass attack are worlds above those opponents. In the first meeting in Denver, Cutler was 36 of 50, for 350 yds and 4 TDís in a 39-38 shootout. This is a huge divisional match-up between teams that are very familiar with each other. Denver has a large advantage at head coach with Mike Shanahan over Norv Turner. And this game is for the division title and a spot in the playoffs. The loser stays home. Denver is not going to just roll over in this game, folks. I think the perception is that the Chargers will get their payback for the Ďbad callí by Ed Hochuli that cost them that first game. That this Charger team, that has won 3 in a row, will come out and just bury this Bronco team that has lost itís last 2 games to set up this perfect scenario, almost like it was fated to happen. Well, I can certainly see the Chargers winning to complete their improbable comeback story. But I can also see them losing. Seriously, this game can very easily go either way, which is what you want when you are getting a ton of points. And thatís what we are getting in this game. San Diego is currently favored by 8 pts, and they should certainly get their points in this game.


Denver will be down to basically just Tatum Bell at running back, but even without much of a running game, the Denver passing game should keep them in this one.
The Broncos have only been this large of a road underdog 3 times since 1997 and they are 2-1 ATS in those games. One of those games was the 2005 season finale in San Diego, with the Chargers losing out-right as Ė11 pt favorites by a score of 23-7. Interestingly, Tatum Bell, sharing carries with Ron Dayne, ran for 52 yds on 17 carries in that game, with 3 rushing TDís. So far Iím 4-0 picking against the Chargers this year. Iíll try it one more time with the Denver Broncos +8

 

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