San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Start-time: Friday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS1
There are no breaks on the car that Peyton Manning drives. But that doesn't suppose the driver lacks control, merely that his vehicle goes crashing through the scenery of rival offenses with reckless abandon. Manning, the best quarterback of this - or possibly any - generation, has not just surpassed Brett Favre's magic number for total touchdowns. He's about to subsume it as a mere footnote.
Just look at that recent demolition of their fellow Super Bowl contenders in San Francisco. Manning chalked up 318 air miles (okay, yards) for four touchdowns and topped the supposed millstone of Favre with a new milestone before the first half was out. Indeed, it was such a comprehensive assault that head coach John Fox was already resting his roster by the third quarter with a view to tonight's game against San Diego.
In short, this Denver unit delivered on great expectations across the park. They even applied some heat on D, restricting the Niners to 248 passing yards with six sacks for minus 53 yards. Colin Kaepernick has seldom had less fun. But it was the all consuming offense - one glaring end-zone drop from league-leading Julius Thomas aside - which stole the show. Emmanuel Sanders is one of the finds of the season so far, Wes Welker reasserted his TD-scoring commitment, while Demaryius Thomas continues to prove the star of the show with deep strikes and bucket mitts.
Then again, that's the genius of Manning Snr. When he's at the controls, this is a 4,000-plus-yard O and everyone eats. Their line may ostensibly have fragility, but this puppeteer can pull the strings around their weaknesses.
On the opposite side of the scrimmage line, Manning's counterpart and former nemesis Philip Rivers is also trying to make up for deficiencies in personnel. However, with his side's top two cornerbacks, Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, on the sidelines and that dynamic troika of Manti Te'o, Jeremiah Attaochu and Melvin Ingram also off the line-backing rails, the jury's in on whether Rivers' talent alone can compensate for their absence. It can't. And that's despite him being the second-best QB in the NFL this term.
A combination of teammate-related concussions, shoulder sprains, hamstring hang-ups and hipbone hassles remind one of a grittier chorus to "Dem Bones". It all leaves Rivers ill-equipped - or at least long odds-against - to make up for his team's defensive failings. Just look at the Kansas game at the weekend where the Chiefs owned the ball for 40 minutes against San Diego.
So while this is a potentially crucial divisional dogfight, the Bolts should really focus on getting healthy and readying themselves for the challenges ahead. Let the Broncos win this battle but not the Super Bowl war. Even bragging right in the AFC West are not beyond them. And I say that as someone who's backed them for both outright honours.
The Chargers currently trail the Broncos by a single game, yet face a far easier schedule for the remainder of the regular season. Benefit from the latter and win the return leg at home on 14th December and homefield advantage for the play-offs can still be theirs. So keep the faith.
Speaking of believing, the one advantage San Diego's depleted S has in its favour is that it's mostly weak against the rush. With lead RB Montee Ball still struggling to return from a groin strain, Denver offer little threat in ground gains. So perhaps the Bolts' secondary could have a big day against Manning since, at bottom, they know what's coming.
Trouble is, as stated, a juggernaut is coming their way. The quick turnaround of a short week does the banged-up Chargers the fewest favours and if Arizona's overrated offense could get it done against them in Week One, in-form Denver should have little trouble covering a range of handicaps at home. Especially against a Bolts D which keep giving up vital third-down conversions.
A combination of altitude and home-ground attitude will ultimately count against San Diego here. It could still be a rocky road which winds up at the Super Bowl. However, this section of The Rockies is a rarefied air to which the Chargers aren't yet acclimatised.
Back Denver Broncos (-7.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9720/21 or better
Back Denver Broncos (-6.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Denver Broncos to win on the Match Moneyline @ 1.331/3 or better
Back Over 28.5 Denver Broncos Total Points @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back J. Thomas to be First / Anytime Touchdown Scorer 7.06/1 or better