The Chargers began their last season in San Diego with a loss of a game and a loss of their star wideout: Keenan Allen was gone for the season in a defeat to Kansas City. Philip Rivers still rolled up big numbers, even if his interception total (21) was high as well. Melvin Gordon helped with ten rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, the defense got a boost from rookie Joey Bosa, who led the team with 10.5 sacks despite holding out for much of the preseason. Those were the high points, but the leaky defense and turnover issues were the main culprits in a 5-11 season.
Life after Peyton Manning turned out to be rougher than most expected, as the Broncos fell all the way from Super Bowl champions to third place in the division with no postseason appearance. Trevor Siemian played respectably in his first season as starting quarterback, with help from the typically reliable receiving duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. But the running game struggled with CJ Anderson injured, and the defense couldn’t stop the run. A three-game losing streak in December ended their chances.
Both teams are breaking in new coaches. With Gary Kubiak forced to retire due to health reasons, the Broncos turned to a defensive mind in Vance Joseph. The Chargers replaced Mike McCoy, a devotee of the passing game, with Anthony Lynn, who figures to build a more running-oriented approach to the offense. Whichever team makes the quicker adjustments will likely be the one at 1-0 after Monday night.
Lynn may want to build around the running game, but he’d be wise to let Rivers take advantage of all the receivers he has at his disposal. With Allen out last year, Tyrell Williams emerged as a major threat. Allen and Williams join the two-pronged tight end approach of Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry to form a group that would put pressure on any secondary. The Broncos have some stingy cornerbacks in Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, but the depth will be tested.
On The Run again
Denver survived Manning’s struggles late in 2015 because the running game propped them up enough to allow the defense to dominate. Last year’s team couldn’t do that, in part because of offensive line issues. Ron Leary and Menelik Watson were brought in to help out in that area. Anderson is back healthy and will get some help from Jamaal Charles, the former Chief star who proved he still had gas in the tank in the preseason. Look for Denver to try and establish the running game early and often in this one.
Broncos OT Garett Bolles vs. Chargers DE Joey Bosa
The Broncos chose Bolles in the first round of the draft, and he’ll be in charge of keeping the best pass rushers off Siemian’s back. He’ll get a chance to prove if he’s up to that task right away against Bosa, who seems like a candidate to lead the league in sacks and is the kind of talent who can dominate a game on the defensive end. It should be an entertaining trench war.
Fantasy football tip – Antonio Gates
Gates was selected after Henry in most fantasy drafts, even though the veteran was generally more productive in games where they were both on the field. Henry is undoubtedly a rising star, but Gates is still Rivers’ top target in the red zone until proven otherwise. He might no longer be a flashy name, but the future Hall of Famer can still do damage.
Prediction: Denver Broncos 21-18 San Diego Chargers
A hard game to read, what with both teams breaking in new coaches if not a lot of new personnel. Denver should sneak this one out, but it should be up for grabs in the closing moments.
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