San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Friday December 13, 01:20
Live on Sky Sports 1
It's about to get rocky in the Rockies for Philip Rivers and his San Diego Chargers, as they travel to Mile High for a date with the battering ram more commonly known as the Denver Broncos.
Although the Bolts remain on the fringes of play-off contention, the last thing they need is a road trip to Denver's irrepressible offensive force, a machine which never seems to slow in working the scoreboard no matter what the stage of the contest (averaging 466 yards per game, 341 of those passing).
Rivers' unenviable task is to try and keep pace with this relentless behemoth and the only man to whom it answers, Peyton Manning. Rivers, however, does have a few things going for him. Firstly, he is one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL with an encouraging history against Manning (4-4 over his career to date). And secondly, the Chargers are coming off arguably their most authoritative victory of the campaign - a 37-14 win at home over the talented but underachieving NY Giants.
During that clash, San Diego were making plays all over the park. Rivers rushed them out to an early lead in the first half with three touchdown for 259 yards, before Ryan Matthews controlled the clock with reliable ground gains (off 29 carries) and the defense put the icing on the cake with a season-high three turnovers.
Trouble is that now they will likely have to upgrade such season highs to a career zenith in front of the eyes of the nation. Manning registered another 397 yards for four touchdowns and no interceptions last week, humbling a useful Tennessee outfit. His 39 completions marked yet another franchise record in a year where the previous records are being surpassed with routine regularity.
The four-time league MVP is, of course, well served by the best receiving crew in the NFL. When you have Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas at your beck and call, things can happen quickly on offense. And it's no surprise that Denver have scored 114 more points than their closest rivals. While Welker misses tonight's tussle with "concussion-like symptoms", Julius Thomas is back operating at top form, having missed a few games with a knee injury. So don't expect Manning and Co to slow down. Indeed, JT's return is typically an indicator of increased red-zone efficiency.
The Broncos are even getting a bit of a running game together, with Knowshon Moreno and Monte Ball largely matching each other in terms of ground gains. Aggressively average gains they may be - especially when compared to the incomparable AP at Minny - but at least it offers Manning yet more versatility.
Rivers, though, appears alarmingly reliant on the aforementioned Matthews and Keenan Allen (one of the wideout discoveries of 2013) to keep his side in the game. And when you're defense is prone to giving up big plays against the pass (they're ranked a lowly 31st in the league), the current handicap mark of 10 points looks well within the compass of Manning and his frequent-flyer miles. Denver have prevailed in all seven of their home fixtures - and by over 20 points on average.
Expect Denver to confirm their status as top seeds in AFC and snuff out the Chargers own low-probability prospects. If it isn't close, at least it should be a shootout. So if you are of a delicate disposition and have trouble watching defensive schemes being blown to smithereens, look away now.
Back Denver Broncos (-10) to beat San Diego Chargers on Match Handicap @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Denver Broncos (-5.5) to beat San Diego Chargers on First Half Handicap @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back J. Thomas to be First Touchdown Scorer @ 10.09/1 or better