By Dave Thomas
Being the sixth and final seed in the NFL playoffs usually means you’re a sizable underdog. When it comes to the San Diego Chargers, that holds true a second weekend straight.
As the Chargers prepare for Sunday afternoon’s AFC West showdown in Denver with the top-seeded Broncos, getting some respect around the league is probably one of the things that would be most gained for this team should it win and/or play Denver right down to the wire.
When the betting lines debuted shortly after the final wild card game this past weekend, San Diego (10-7) posted as a 10-point underdog against Peyton Manning and Co. this coming weekend. Those odds are despite the fact that the Chargers went into Denver back on Dec. 12 and left the Mile High City with an impressive 27-20 victory.
So, why are the Chargers getting so little love from oddsmakers as they head into this next round of playoff action? This after being a touchdown dog at Cincinnati last Sunday and beating the previously unbeaten at home Bengals?
Denver’s Offensive Numbers are Impressive
For starters, Denver’s offensive production this season has been off the charts.
As a team, the Broncos led the NFL during the regular season with a 37.9 points-per-game clip. Denver wracked up a whopping 606 points over 16 games, while producing an average of 457.3 yards per game. Yes, having the veteran Manning at the helm certainly accounts for much of that production, but the Broncos have a number of play makers at both the wide receiver and running back positions to distribute the ball to.
For the Chargers to have any chance of repeating what it did exactly one month ago to the day (Dec. 12) this Sunday, they will have to play ball control, get a supreme effort in the backfield from Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and even Ronnie Brown, and be able to move the ball through the air to guys like Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates when needed. Last but not least, Phillip Rivers will need to avoid committing any big turnovers that all but guarantee the Broncos some points.
Chargers Can Score on Denver’s Defense
On the defensive side of the ball, there is little doubt that Denver’s defensive output is a far cry from its glory days of the late 1970s, when the “Orange Crush” was as good as there was in the NFL.
In 2013, Denver has put up respectable numbers, but nothing that is going to intimidate opponents.
For the regular season, the Broncos ranked 14th in points allowed per game (24.9), while giving up some 356 yards per game. In its 27-20 victory last month, San Diego got a pair of TD passes from Rivers, while Mathews rushed for 127 yards (29 carries) and one score.
While the Chargers have proven in the last week that their defense is capable of playing with anyone in the league, Denver is definitely not Cincinnati, and no one is ready to compare the Bengals Andy Dalton with Manning in the near or distant future.
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.