Monday, January 6, 2014

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round - San Diego at Denver

Welcome to the NFL Playoffs, where the best teams get a rest and your record doesn’t matter. No one cares what you did in the regular season. Sorry, Kansas City, no one cares that you were the last undefeated team in the NFL. Sorry, Philadelphia, no one cares that you won seven of your last eight games. Sorry, Cincinnati, no one cares that you beat out Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the AFC North. Sorry, Green Bay, San Francisco doesn’t care what Aaron Rodgers means to your playoff hopes.

It might seem harsh, but that’s how the playoffs work. You fight and claw and give it all you have, but it’s not good enough if you aren’t hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Ask everyone who doubted John Elway before he won two. Ask the people who currently doubt Peyton Manning. Ask those who continually defend Tom Brady because he has won three Super Bowls, the last of which was in 2005. The four losers of Wild Card weekend will not get to help continue the trend of Wild Card teams in the Super Bowl. However, San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Francisco can continue that trend.

I’ll take a look at the Divisional Round and how each matchup will shake out.

San Diego at Denver
As a Sports fan I’m disappointed, I would have preferred to watch a Manning-Luck and Manning-Brady this year. Although I got that in the regular season, there is nothing quite like watching two great field generals do their worst to the opposing defense. However, both Manning matchups are still alive, but now he faces a formidable foe in Philip Rivers. Over the last few years, Rivers has looked confused, rattled and dismembered. At last, San Diego has a coach who has the background, the pedigree and the patience to make a team great.
Mike McCoy was the Offensive Coordinator for the Denver Broncos during the Kyle Orton-Tim Tebow issue and the first year of the Manning project. One thing is for sure, he knows John Fox well. McCoy and Fox were together from 2002-2008 in Carolina and then in Denver from 2011-2012. If any team should scare the Broncos, it’s the Chargers. When San Diego was good, with Rivers and LaDanian Tomlinson, and the Broncos were good enough, the Chargers seemed to have the Broncos number. Well, even without a future HOF runner, Rivers can sure carve up a defense again. We’ll get back to him in a minute. McCoy should know almost all of the defense’s keys and terms and he’ll know a lot of the Broncos plays. New wrinkles are a given, but will there be that many to surprise McCoy? We will see.
Rivers’ confidence and pocket presence is vastly improved. He looks and throws like a new QB. He has one of the best security blankets in the NFL, Antonio Gates. Gates and Rivers have such good chemistry, that they could complete passes with their eyes closed. Gates has become one of the best Tight Ends in the game. Ryan Mathews finally knows how to run the ball effectively, and rookie WR Keenan Allen has become a star in McCoy’s offense. The Denver defense will have a lot of matchup problems, but to beat the Chargers, they’ll need to get over themselves quickly.
The Denver defense has a lot to prove and a lot of injuries to make proving themselves even tougher. In order for the Broncos to win, they will fall back on an old Colts tradition: “If Peyton Manning can score a lot of points, we can get enough stops to win. Being without Von Miller, Rahim Moore (some may laugh, but he’s better than that one play against Baltimore last year), and potentially Wesley Woodyard and Champ Bailey the Broncos defense will have to live up to and believe that the next-man-up mentality can hold true.
The offense of the Broncos is one of the best in NFL history. Peyton Manning 5,477 passing yards and 55 TDs (first in NFL history for a QB) and 606 points scored as a team (1st in NFL history). Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball, and don’t even get me started on the solid play of the O-line. The offense does its job, the worry comes in the defense (as stated).
The teams went 1-1 in their matchups in this season. Weirdly enough, both times the road team won. The only team that beat Denver at home was San Diego, and guess where the game will be played? *Ding* *Ding* *Ding* The game is in Denver.
Let’s take a look at the individual matchups at each position.

San Diego





Special Teams


Denver has the edge in QB, Offensive line play and Special Teams by a wide margin. There is a slight edge in Denver’s favor for WR and coach. San Diego’s advantage at the TE position is only because Gates is proven and Thomas is trying to prove himself. The Defensive edge goes to San Diego because McCoy will know a lot of the sets for Denver, and the Broncos are beat up and the Chargers should be closer to full strength at game time. The Push at RB is because Ryan Mathews and Knowshon Moreno are both showing they can play at the highest level even though many “experts” and fans were ready to (all but) write them off before the season started.

This game will be a dogfight and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came down to the final seconds. Can the Broncos count on Manning to finish strong in this year’s playoffs? Can the Chargers stop choking when it matters? Will we ever see Manning in another Super Bowl? We’ll see about that last one, I say Manning and the Broncos find a way and win 31-28