The AFC West comes down to two separate season finales. Denver must beat San Diego and see the Chiefs lose to the Raiders to win the title. The Chiefs are hoping for the opposite. But the division now rests on the shoulders of Brock Osweiler, not Peyton Manning. The Chargers have been decimated by injuries this season, a disappointing campaign that could be their last in San Diego. Philip Rivers has been the one constant this year, dragging the Chargers to some decent results, but has been held back by the rest of the team. Denver have secured a playoff spot and just need to wrap up the division title. Osweiler has been as good as, if not better than Manning this season, and allows Gary Kubiak to run the offense he wants. Denver’s defense is still the league’s best unit, and has won more games for the Broncos than either quarterback.
Three Keys to the Game:
Pressuring Brock Osweiler
Osweiler seems to have one good half and one bad half every game, nearly always giving the edge to Denver’s opponent at some point. San Diego’s defense has been playing better over the past few games, allowing just 194.3 passing yards per game over their last four contests. Osweiler has been saddled with a subpar offensive line, and has been sacked 11 times in the last four games.
Denver’s running game
The Broncos are running the ball better since Osweiler took over, which is bad news for the Chargers. San Diego struggle against the run, giving up 119.7 yards per game this season. If C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman can run the ball well, they can take the pressure off Osweiler and wear down the Chargers.
Philip Rivers vs Denver’s defense
The Broncos have been the league’s best defense this season, but had to adjust to beat AJ McCarron’s Bengals last week after a bad first half. If cracks are appearing in Denver’s defense, Rivers has a good shot to find them. Despite having injuries decimate his receiving corps, Rivers leads the league’s fourth best passing attack, averaging 292.3 yards per game. But the Broncos are strong at every level, and have one of the league’s deepest pass rushing corps. Even Rivers will struggle to get through a unit that has 13 interceptions and 49 sacks while allowing just 280.9 yards per game.
Match-up to watch: Danny Woodhead vs Denver linebackers
Woodhead has been Rivers’ safety blanket this season as a receiver and a runner out of the backfield. He had four touchdowns against Miami despite just 60 total yards, and is Rivers’ best weapon in the redzone. But Woodhead will need to get past Denver’s tough core of linebackers. Both Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan have been two of Denver’s key defensive players this year, and should be able to contain Woodhead.
Prediction: Denver Broncos
The Broncos have more than enough on defense to shut down Rivers, while Osweiler can beat San Diego’s defense with either his arm or by handing the ball to Anderson and Hillman. Denver should be able to secure their 5th consecutive division title.