|Broncos TE Julius Thomas has evolved into a top flight player under Peyton Manning|
The NFL heads west tonight for the eighth Thursday Night Football match-up of the season, with the AFC West leading Denver Broncos (5-1) hosting the 5-2 San Diego Chargers. Both teams have looked good in the early going but a loss here for either side would significantly decrease their chances of winning the division and earning a bye in the play-offs. To find out what to keep an eye on as the action unfolds scroll on down.
When San Diego has the ball…
Phillip Rivers is enjoying a career season for the Chargers, throwing 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions while posting a passer rating of 113, making him a prime candidate to win a first MVP award if he can continue his purple patch. Branden Oliver, an undrafted rookie, has taken over as the teams primary running back following injuries to Danny Woodhead and Ryan Matthews, and while Matthews is expected to return soon Oliver has been a revelation in the backfield. Antonio Gates has enjoyed a resurgence following a couple of down years at the tight end position, and he’s once more become Rivers favourite red zone target as his seven touchdown receptions would suggest. The Broncos beefed up their defense in the summer and the moves have paid off handsomely, with Aqib Talib proving to be a lock-down corner on the outside while former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware has been a menace when rushing the passer. Ware recorded three sacks of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick on Sunday night and Von Miller has also been a threat to opposing passers, bringing the QB down eight times in just six games.
When Denver has the ball…
There’s not a lot left to be said about Peyton Manning after he broke the all-time touchdown passing record last week against San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean opposing defenses should assume the former Colt will slow down. To make matters even more ominous for Denver’s foes Manning has a full compliment of weapons in tow, with Wes Welker back from his concussion problems and both Demaryius and Julius Thomas causing match-up problems wherever they line-up. The running game has been a disappointment for Denver this year and Montee Ball is currently out injured, but that hasn’t stopped Manning from carving open defense after defense. Safety Eric Weddle has been a steady presence in the San Diego secondary for a number of years now and he leads the team in tackles once again in 2014, while the Chargers pass rush has been effective with the team recording 15 sacks, although no one player has more than 2.5. Brandon Flowers leads the team with two interceptions but he’ll miss out with a concussion, while Manti Te’o is a capable run stopper in the middle of the field when he’s been healthy – which unfortunately he hasn’t been this year.
Nick Novak has been nails for the Chargers this season and hasn’t yet missed a kick, while punter Mike Scifres is one of the better players at his position in the league. Rookie Brandon McManus has kicked well enough for Denver that they were able to release Matt Prater, who missed the first four games of the season while serving a PED related suspension. Neither side has gotten much out of their return games.
Flowers and Te’o are definitely out for San Diego, while cornerback and first round pick Jason Verrett is also questionable to play. Montee Ball is out for the Broncos, while kicker Brandon McManus is probable with a groin strain.
Chargers 20, Broncos 35