The Denver Broncos are red hot favourites to beat the San Diego Chargers in Sunday's second live Sky Sports game, but Neil Harvey believes the home side can stay in touch with their classier rivals...
"Denver start as the strong favourites, and so the upside here has to be in believing that San Diego can make this closer than expected."
Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers
Start Time: Sunday, 21:25
TV: Live on Sky Sports 2
People can be so fickle.
Just a few weeks ago, many people were ready to all but put a second Superbowl ring onto the finger of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. But just one defeat to Indianapolis later, and now you can hear whispers of whether they could be overtaken by San Diego in the race for second place in the AFC West.
Sheesh. I was at the front of the queue of those saying Denver were not the unstoppable team many were making them out to be. But they are still a very, very good team. And they did not get any worse overnight. They simply had a tough match-up against another good side.
That loss to Indy could spell bad news though for the Chargers. Denver bounced straight back from that Week Seven loss with a 45-21 crushing of the Redskins, and now they return refreshed from a bye week.
The Chargers meanwhile keep finding ways to lose, when they look favourites to win. Earlier in the season, first Houston and then Tennessee stole the taste of victory from right out of San Diego mouths. And then last week, it was the turn of Washington to deprive them of the 'W', as they rallied from behind to win in overtime.
It's becoming a worrying trend for San Diego and when you look at the calibre of opposition doing it to them, it becomes even more of a concern. Of those three sides that ransacked the Chargers, not one has a winning record. And for San Diego to be beaten by the same Washington team that had just lost handsomely to Denver, provides us with a very strong form-line.
On the plus side for the (4-4) Chargers, is that they have performed noticeably better at home than they have on their travels, earning two victories from three games at the Qualcomm Stadium. The only team to beat them there so far was Houston. But if the much-maligned Matt Schaub was able to throw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, what sort of damage might the Broncos do?
But for me, the key to this game could lie in San Diego's ability to stop, or not as the case may be, the Denver running game. The Chargers have enjoyed success when they've shut down their opponents' running backs, as both Indianapolis and Dallas found to their cost. And last week, you could put much of Washington's victory down to the 121 yards rushing from Alfred Morris.
But while the Redskins are second in the league for rushing, the Broncos rank only 17th, five places below even Indianapolis, and this is where I see a ray of hope for the Chargers. If they can put a halt to Denver RB Knowshon Moreno, then they might be able to focus their defensive attentions on stopping Denver's number one ranked passing game. It might not sound so likely, but it worked well enough to stop quarterbacks as good as both Andrew Luck and Tony Romo.
Denver start as the strong favourites, and so the upside here has to be in believing that San Diego can make this closer than expected.
Philip Rivers is in the form of his life, with San Diego's pass-offence ranked the fourth best in the NFL. With Keenan Allen proving a top-class receiver, and jack-in-the-box Danny Woodhead popping up when you least expect him, the Chargers have enough tricks up their sleeve to put points on the board and stay in contention.
By doing that, they could keep the Broncos honest, so to speak, by forcing them to establish their running game. Again, after so many high-scoring shootouts, the upside seems to be in going low on the total points. Denver's secondary showed clear signs of improvement on its last outing, as it managed to keep RGIII largely in check, which again could force the Chargers to focus on their running game more than they've perhaps been used to.
San Diego (+8,5) to beat Denver @ 4/6 (Sportsbook)
Total points under 54.5 @ 21/20 (Sportsbook)
Denver to win by 1-6 points @ 7/2 (Sportsbook)
San Diego to be first team to score @ 2.56/4 or better