Let me start by saying that I do believe the San Diego Chargers can win their playoff game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. It'd be foolish to think otherwise. The Chargers have won 5 consecutive games, including one on the road in Denver. They have the ability.
My issue is that I'm no longer confident that they will win. I know, this is strange. For those of you that can read between the lines, you know that I thought the Chargers would win against the Broncos in Denver a few weeks ago. You also know that I thought San Diego would handle the Cincinnati Bengals in their first playoff game. So, what's different this time?
Against the Broncos on December 12th, I thought it would be a war of attrition. It was a game that the Chargers needed to win to stay alive, and there was no real reason that Denver needed the win (Case, in point: They lost the game and ended up as the #1 seed in the AFC). In addition to that, the game was on a Thursday night.
I didn't think that the Broncos were about to kill themselves on a short week for a game that wouldn't mean much in the long run, and I turned out to be right. The problem is that they've had a full week off to get healthy and another full week to prepare for the Chargers, and this is a game that they need to win. San Diego will be getting 100% effort from Denver this time.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Peyton Manning is a future Hall of Famer, and Welker likely is as well. The first time around, Welker missed the game with a concussion. The Broncos gave him almost a month off after that big hit to make sure that he'd be 100% for their first playoff game. I don't know that there is anyone on the Chargers that can defend a healthy Welker.
Speaking of healthy star players, the Chargers damn near murdered Ryan Mathews on national television the last time these two teams met.
Four days after touching the ball 32 times for 135 yards against the New York Giants, which is a heavy load for Mathews, Coach Whisenhunt threw the cowbell back around his RB's neck and hoped for the best. Against the Broncos, Mathews got 30 more touches, this time totaling 128 yards.
That's well and good, but it was tough to watch those two games because you knew that his body wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer. Mathews has reportedly been in a walking boot during recent weeks, and he missed most of the playoff game against the Bengals. San Diego will need him to play a big role if they're going to win in Denver, but I'm not sure he's even going to be able to play at all.
Oh, here's where you are going to tell me that Peyton Manning is terrible in the playoffs, right? Let me show you something:
- Peyton Manning (36 years old): 9-11 in the playoffs, 1-1 in the Super Bowl
- John Elway (36 years old): 7-8 in the playoffs, 0-3 in the Super Bowl
Does everyone remember what Elway did in his final two seasons with the Denver Broncos? He quieted the critics, going 7-0 in the playoffs and winning back-to-back Super Bowls before retiring on his terms.
Don't fool yourself. It's no coincidence that Elway was able to bring Manning to Denver. Manning is looking to end his career in the very same way, and he's looking to start this year.
Any time you hear someone bring up the "Manning can't win in the playoffs" argument, just remember that there was a time when everyone was saying the same thing about John Elway. Players can change, they can get better. In fact, most teams rely upon players getting better over time, and a big part of that is gaining experience in high-pressure situations so that you can handle them better in the future. Don't discount Manning's ability to do this.
The Element of Surprise
It's gone. You can completely throw Peyton Manning off once by showing him a defense that includes Melvin Ingram, and has Jahleel Addae and Darrell Stuckey playing safety, but now he's got 5 games worth of film on this defense. If it were up to him, he'd rather spend time watching that film than sleeping this week. He will have the scheme memorized by Tuesday, and he'd be a fine replacement for John Pagano as the Chargers defensive coordinator by Friday.
This feels a bit like the Wizard of Oz. The Chargers coaching staff caught the Broncos off guard, and wowed them with loud noises and smoke. However, the first thing that the Denver offense is going to do on Sunday is walk over to the curtain and pull it to the side to reveal the league's worst defense.
San Diego will have to win this game with perfect execution and focus. There's no other way at this point. It's a divisional game, which means it's likely to be close, but it's hard to ignore the fact that the Broncos are the more talented team in this matchup.
Stay tuned for a "Here's why I am not afraid of the Denver Broncos" post in the next few days.