In the underwhelming AFC, there are an awful lot of teams still in the hunt for the second Wild Card.
At 6-7, you’d assume the San Diego Chargers weren’t one of them but here we are. Given that Baltimore and Miami both have games they can very well lose (against Detroit and against New England respectively) and with the other 6-7 team (the New York Jets) heading to Carolina, the Chargers have a great shot at getting a leg up for that spot.
They face a Denver Broncos team which, while it has secured a playoff berth, has its sights set on the division title and a bye week—and perhaps home field advantage.
In other words, this is no pushover for either team.
- Can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Last time out, the Chargers offensive line allowed him to be sacked four times, hit five times total and pressured all day long. How will the Chargers avoid this? Will they go no-huddle and up-tempo early? Will they use a lot of short slants and quick passes to negate the rush by getting the ball out quickly? How they handle Von Miller and company will decide if they can keep up with Manning.
- Without Wes Welker and with a Peyton Manning who is still wrestling with ankle issues, does the Broncos offense change at all? You can bet that the Chargers will try to hit Manning often and disrupt his timing but that’s a tough task. Manning can get the ball out quickly, so it’s a matter of keeping his receivers covered just long enough to get a hand on him. That hasn’t been easy and while Welker is a loss, Eric Decker has been on fire and the return of tight end Julius Thomas bolsters the offense up. Also, will the split between Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball continue?
- How will the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen play into the Chargers offense? Back in Week 10, Allen wasn’t a big factor with just five targets and four catches for 41 yards. Truth be told, the entire offense played poorly once the Broncos built a 21-6 lead. But Allen was clearly not the playmaker he is now. This will be a tough test for him and the Chargers need him to perform. San Diego will want to try to get an early lead. To do that, they need to protect Rivers. But they’ll also need the rookie receiver to continue to step up.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.