Although it is only October, tonight’s AFC West matchup between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers has major implications for the division race. The winner of the game will be in first place in the AFC West, with the Chargers taking a commanding two-game lead if they win.
Don’t try to predict the outcome of this game after the first 15 minutes. The Chargers are outscoring opponents by 25 points in the first quarter, tied for the best first quarter scoring margin in the league. But they have been outscored by three points after the first quarter.
The Broncos lead the NFL in fourth quarter point differential, outscoring teams 58-6. Their six fourth-quarter points allowed are by far the fewest in the NFL; their 58 points scored are fewer than only three teams this season.
Manning vs Rivers
The marquee matchup in this game involves the men behind center. The advantage, though, isn’t as obvious as it may seem at first glance.
Peyton Manning has struggled in his career against the Chargers, throwing 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in seven games. The -4 touchdown-to-interception differential matches his worst against team.
Philip Rivers has shined when facing the Broncos, going 9-3 with 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. The +13 differential is by far his best against any team and the 20 touchdowns are also his most vs any opponent.
When Denver has the ball
Manning struggled in his first two games this season as he adjusted to the Broncos offense and his new receivers, throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns (3) while averaging fewer than 250 passing yards per game.
Peyton Manning Passing
More Than 20 Yards Downfield
In his last three games, he has eight touchdown passes and no picks while posting a Total QBR above 90 in two of the three games.
The key has been a much-improved deep ball recently. Manning didn’t complete a pass thrown more than 20 yards downfield in his first two games, but has since completed 7-of-13 attempts with two touchdowns.
The Chargers have allowed just four completions on passes of 21-plus air yards, fewer than all but four teams entering Week 6.
The man Ron Jaworski nicknamed “The Surgeon” has been his typical self on shorter throws this season. Entering this week, he had compiled the most passing yards on throws of 10 air yards or fewer in the NFL and ranked third in Total QBR on such throws.
When San Diego has the ball
Rivers lost his biggest deep threat this offseason when Vincent Jackson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rivers’ average pass is traveling just 6.7 yards downfield this season, which ranks 31st out of 33 qualified quarterbacks.
Philip Rivers Avg Throw Distance
Last 5 Seasons
Jackson’s average target was 17.0 yards downfield from 2008 to 2011, and the only time that Rivers finished outside the top 10 in average throw distance was in 2010 when Jackson missed 11 games.
However, a strategy of shorter passes might be the best way to beat the Broncos defense this year. Denver is allowing a Total QBR of 76.6 on throws 10 yards or fewer downfield, which was the third-worst in the league entering Week 6.