The start of the Denver Broncos' dominant season left me cold. Quarterback Peyton Manning was playing at a ridiculously proficient level, but it all almost came almost too easily. The prolific offense was built around a precise, mostly short passing game.
Where were the deep strikes? For outrageous throws down the field, I had to switch the channel.
That's all changed over the last two weeks. After the team's meltdown in Foxborough, Manning has been dropping vertical bombs like it was 2002. It's almost as if Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase wanted to show everyone that could score any way they wanted, weather be damned.
Manning's performances against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans have somehow taken his MVP season to another level. It is one of the best mini-stretches of his career. And now he gets his easiest matchup of the year on Thursday night.
San Diego's defense is ranked dead last in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings. The Chargers have no pass rush and are susceptible to plenty of coverage busts. Their moves in the secondary have been woeful. It smells like a 50-burger waiting to happen.
Here are five other things to watch for on Thursday night:
1. The Chargers have the rare offense that can keep up with Denver. While its defense is among the league's worst, San Diego's offense is one of the league's best. Quarterback Philip Rivers leads the league in completion percentage and ranks fourth in yards per attempt. He would be an MVP candidate (non-Peyton division) if he got more help.
Like Manning, Rivers is coming off two sensational performances after a brief mid-season malaise.
2. While Denver is dropping 50 on Thursday night, don't be surprised if the Chargers throw a 40-burger. At one stage during last week's game, the Broncos were missing six of their original defensive starters. Four were injured. Two others -- linebacker Wesley Woodyard and safety Duke Iheanacho -- were benched.
This is not a particularly good Broncos defense, especially in the secondary. It's not a great sign they are mixing and matching lineup options so late in the season.
3. Linebacker Von Miller is one reason to believe in a Broncos defensive turnaround. His sack numbers (six in seven games) don't tell the whole story. He's been an increasingly disruptive presence hitting the quarterback and stopping the run.
4. Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen could make a big push in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race with a big prime-time performance. Allen reminds me of Antonio Brown because he can do a little bit of everything before and after the catch. Allen is good in the open field, he knows how to get open and has great hands. He's caught 75 percent of the passes thrown to him this season, a huge number considering all his big plays. He could go over 1,000 receiving yards with another 100-yard game on Thursday night.
5. Danny Woodhead leads all NFL running backs in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Combined with Ryan Mathews, who is excellent on early downs, the Chargers have one of the more difficult run games in the league to handle. Woodhead has a tough matchup against Denver's linebacker group -- one of the fastest in the league.