Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers Picks & Preview
Charge in on Big Monday Night Game

Peyton ManningWhen Peyton Manning (pictured) and the Denver Broncos travel to Qualcomm Stadium to take on Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, the AFC West could certainly be on the line (8.30pm ET, Monday).

Currently, the Chargers hold the lead in the division with a 3-2 record and 2-0 in the division. The Broncos are not far behind however. They sit in second and are 2-3 on the season, 1-0 in the division.

No matter which team walks away from the game a winner, one will see their perfect divisional record blemished and one will get one step closer to ensuring a berth to the 2012 playoffs. It will be a Monday night match-up that you really won’t want to miss.

The Re-emergence of Running Back Ryan Mathews

25-year-old Ryan Mathews had a breakout season in 2011 as he became the lead back for the Chargers.

In his second year in the NFL, Mathews played in 14 games, had 222 rushing attempts, ran for 1,091 yards and scored six touchdowns. He caught 50 receptions for 455 yards. He also fumbled the ball five times but in all, his stats were very good and easily gave him career best marks in all rushing and receiving categories.

Although he was the lead back, Mathews still had to concede goal line carries to the third down fullback, Mike Tolbert. A power rusher, Tolbert was the Chargers’ go-to when it came to short yardage situations. He had for 121 attempts, 490 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He fumbled the ball just once.

Coming into the 2012 season however, San Diego made the decision not to re-sign Tolbert. In doing this, they opened the door for Mathews to be their every down back. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Mathews sustained a clavicle injury late in the preseason and was forced to miss the first few weeks of the season.

While he was gone, the Chargers operated on a running back by committee system and for the most part it worked pretty well. In fact, it worked a little too well because when Mathews made his return, he was not the starting running back. He still received carries and receptions but was not used exclusively. Mathews did have a chance to run in a touchdown but he coughed up the ball in the endzone, making Chargers management question if he was over his fumble issues from 2011.

As a result of this costly turnover, Mathews forfeited the opportunity to be the starter in back-to-back games against the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. Again, in both games Mathews still received a role in the offense but it wasn’t until the New Orleans game that he really broke through.

Mathews ran 12 carries for 80 yards on the ground and a touchdown. He also caught six passes for 59 yards. Although a loss for the Chargers, Mathews played very well and according to San Diego personnel, earned his job back as the starter.

Against the Broncos and their 21st ranked rushing defense, Mathews will have a pretty favorable match-up. As the lead back for the Chargers, he will be involved heavily in the offense as the Chargers look to balance out their running and throwing game. Also, if Mathews can perform well it will help the Chargers to control the clock and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands.

QB Battle: Peyton Manning vs. Philip Rivers

Putting the historical career stats of these two aside, Chargers QB Philip Rivers and Broncos QB Peyton Manning, are having 2012 seasons that resemble each other very closely.

  • Peyton Manning: 66 CMP %, 1,499 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT, 80.4 QBR, 101 rating
  • Philip Rivers: 67.9 CMP %, 1,251 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 61.8 QBR, 93.1 rating

NFL Odds at BetOnlineBoth Manning and Rivers have helped lead their team successfully this season. They both have very strong offensive contributors and both quarterbacks have also limited their own mistakes.

In this head-to-head divisional clash, Manning and Rivers will definitely need to perform well as both teams have solid passing defenses. Rivers and his offensive line will have to worry about stopping the NFL’s ninth best sacking team with 14 on the season. Specifically, this includes Von Miller, who leads the Broncos with five of these 14 sacks. He will also have to confront a defense that has given up just 215 yards to opposing quarterbacks.

Manning meanwhile will have his hands full with a Charger defense that is eighth in the league with six interceptions but only 18th in sacks. Manning could have an advantage as with no real sacking threat, the Broncos should be able to give Peyton as much time as he needs to find an open Demaryius Thomas downfield.

Key Players to Watch

RB Willis McGahee (DEN): 83 ATT, 376 YDS, 3 TD; 14 REC, 91 YDS
McGahee has led the Denver running game all season and has been a huge part of the team’s late game success. McGahee’s ability to run over defenders has served him well and has helped him and the Broncos to establish the league’s 17th best rushing offense. McGahee will have to deal with a tough San Diego rushing defense that has allowed opponent’s just 74 yards on the ground, the fifth best in the NFL.

TE Antonio Gates (SD): 13 REC, 143 YDS
Since their time together on the Chargers began, Rivers and Gates have combined for a touchdown on 34 occasions, this number bested only by the Atlanta Falcons pair of Matt Ryan and Roddy White. For this reason, it is surprising that Gates and Rivers have yet to connect on a score in 2012. Against the Broncos and their 11th ranked passing defense, Gates could look to have a bigger role in the offense. This role could increase, especially if the Broncos put Champ Bailey and double coverage on Rivers’ favorite 2012 target, Malcom Floyd.

Broncos at Chargers Betting Picks & Preview Verdict

In the history of the two franchises, Denver leads the series 55-48-1. San Diego however has won four of the past five meetings with Rivers boasting a 102.7 passer rating and 9-3 record when facing Denver. In addition, the Chargers, while under head coach Norv Turner, are 4-1 against Manning including two huge playoff wins.

The Chargers should handle Denver and they receive a +1 point head-start on the sportsbooks’ spread, which looks generous.

NFL betting lines at BetOnline