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Divisional Round Weekend preview: Chargers-Broncos

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS


The backstory


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In two games against the Denver Broncos, the offense of the San Diego Chargers has held the ball for 76 minutes and 52 seconds, an average of 38-plus minutes per game.

San Diego's obsessive, clock-chewing approach kept the Chargers close in a 28-20 loss to Denver in Week 10 and propelled them to a 27-20 victory over the Broncos in Week 15. Expect to see more of the same Sunday.

We all know about the record breaking, jaw-dropping antics of Denver's Peyton Manning-led attack. Logic suggests the Broncos can't be stopped, but what the Chargers did in their Thursday night win over Denver served as the blueprint for a potential playoff stunner.

The goal is clear: Keeping Manning off the field. The Chargers are the only team to hold Peyton's Broncos to under 400 yards -- and they did it twice this season.

Two of Denver's three-lowest scoring outputs also came against San Diego, and Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is 6-5 against Manning since joining the team in 2002.

No way this high-octane Broncos outfit doesn't solve their past issues against the Bolts and burn down the house, right? Impossible to imagine Manning going one and done for a ninth time in his career ... right?

Wrong.

Under pressure


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Denver's run defense: The Broncos have scored more points and touchdowns this season than any team in history. Manning, meanwhile, has shattered a boatload of records -- but Denver's defense has issues.

The Broncos are allowing a whopping 24.9 points per game. Only one team in NFL history -- the 2011 Giants -- won the Super Bowl with a leakier defense (at 25 points per game).

Stopping Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead on the ground is a concern for the Broncos after the Chargers ran for 177 yards back in Week 15. Denver's tightened against the run down the stretch -- allowing fewer than 100 yards in three of its past four games -- but two of those matchups came against the hapless Texans and Raiders.

The Chargers are a different beast, averaging 39 carries per game since Week 13. They blistered Cincinnati on Sunday with 40 totes for 196 yards in a game that saw Philip Rivers throw just six passes in the first half.

Everything San Diego's done over the past five games tells us that approach won't change.

Matchup to watch


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Broncos receivers vs. Chargers secondary:

This Chargers secondary is tasked with shutting down the first team in NFL history to field five players with 10-plus touchdowns.

No team in the league scores points in bunches like the Broncos. San Diego did a fine job shutting down Denver's run game in two meetings, but Manning ripped them for 313 yards in the first game and 277 in the second.

Chargers safety Eric Weddle is an asset, but I'm less confident in cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall. Against a passing attack that can bury a team in a single quarter, San Diego has its hands full.

Mind-blowing stats


In games after receiving a first-round bye, Peyton Manning is 1-4, the worst record for a QB since 1978, the start of wild-card play. ... The Chargers offense had the fewest three-and-out drives in the NFL this year with 23. Manning's Broncos were second with 31. ... There has never been a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who led the league in passing yards that same season.

Prediction


The Chargers are a well-coached team, but I can't go against Manning and the Broncos here:

Denver Broncos 27, San Diego Chargers 24 (OT)

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