Despite a rare home loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, things are still looking pretty good for the Denver Broncos. For the San Diego Chargers? Not so much.
As San Diego and Denver prepare for their first matchup of the 2016 season, the two teams appear headed in opposite directions. The Chargers find themselves in last place in the AFC West at 1-4, while the Broncos are tied with the Raiders atop the division at 4-1.
San Diego hasn’t had much go their way this season. They lost star wide receiver Keenan Allen in Week 1 for the season, then had to place multidimensional running back Danny Woodhead on IR the following week.
The biggest problem for the Chargers has been closing out games. They have held a lead in each of their five games this season, but have been unable to hold on in all but one. These struggles come despite having one of the most prolific offenses in football through five games. San Diego boasts the eighth most yards per game, and has scored more points (142) than everyone other than the Falcons. Even while averaging over 30 points per game, the team just cannot come away with wins to start the 2016 season.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have been able to win thanks to the continued stellar play of their defense. The unit that carried Denver to last year’s Super Bowl title has picked up right where they left off this year. Wade Phillips’ unit is ranked in the top ten in yards surrendered and gives up the fifth fewest points per contest. The team already has nine takeaways, and Von Miller (6.5 sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble) remains one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the league.
Denver’s success has come despite relying on two young quarterbacks, second-year player Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch. Neither have been particularly explosive, but both have been able to get the job done so far. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have both started strong, helping ease the pressure off the two young signal-callers.
The Chargers’ offense is finally getting benefits out of running back Melvin Gordon as well. The second-year back did not score a touchdown during his rookie season, but leads the league with seven scores (6 rushing, 1 receiving) through San Diego’s first five games. Without Allen and Woodhead, Philip Rivers has been forced to rely on Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams to lead the receiving corps.
The Broncos are rightfully favored in the Thursday night matchup, even though they are on the road and are not yet sure who will be starting at quarterback. That being said, the Chargers have showed that, despite their poor record, they boast one of the league’s top offenses. While a defensive battle favors Denver, if San Diego can break through against the stout Broncos’ defense turn the game into a shootout, the odds could shift to benefit the Chargers.
A loss for the Chargers could be the last nail in the coffin on San Diego’s season, as it would put them four games behind Denver (and possibly Oakland) after just six games. But if the Chargers are going to turn their season around, a home win against the defending Super Bowl champions would be the right place to start.
Denver is hoping to bury their division rival and, pending the Chiefs/Raiders game on Sunday, look to get an edge atop the AFC West. The defense is good enough to lead the Broncos to another Super Bowl, and winning division matchups is the easiest way to assure a spot in the postseason.