NFL Divisional round: San Diego Chargers play Denver Broncos at Mile High
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 12/01/14 9:49pm
Players and coaches talk about San Diego @ Denver
Denver's historic season continues as they make their entrance into the play-offs on Sunday against huge underdogs San Diego -live on on Sky Sports 2HD but the Chargers have already upset the odds once this season at Mile High.
After scraping into the post-season by the skin of their teeth, San Diego won in Cincinnati last week to set up the rematch with their AFC West rivals, only this time a place in the AFC Championship game is at stake.
It's 1-1 in their season head-to-head, with both winning on the road, so will that trend continue? Denver won seven games in a row at home before the Chargers ruined their perfect record - don't think for a second Manning and Co have forgotten that, either.
It's another case of momentum versus rest in the play-offs, with the Chargers riding high after not only squeaking into the post season but then bullying the Bengals last week.
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Manning was in glorious form this season, setting records for TD passes (55) and passing yards (5,477), while Denver scored a record 606 points as they produced the best offensive season ever in the NFL - but the veteran quarterback's play-off record will raise its ugly head once again.
As one of the game's greatest he always gets the 'show me the rings' comment thrown at him for winning just one Super Bowl - and his 9-11 play-off record, including eight losses in his first play-off game of the year, fuels the argument that he's more statistics than success. He's also 1-4 in play-off games after having a bye.
No easy draw
Chargers QB Philip Rivers is one of just four qualifying triggermen with a winning record against Manning, as he's 5-4 including a 2-0 mark in the play-offs. San Diego are also 3-0 on the road against teams with winning records this season.
Saying that, Denver had lost against all three remaining teams in the play-offs last weekend, so they did not have a preferred draw. Oh and one more for you is that since 2005 No 6 seeds have a very healthy 5-2 record against No 1 seeds in the play-offs.
How the Chargers made the play-offs
Those are some of the negative stats for Denver, but let's not forget they are a record-breaking offensive team that could very well get up early and run riot over the Chargers.
Manning has 590 yards in two games against them this season, and Denver is the only team in history to have five players with 10-plus TDs in a season. They're loaded at receiver, have three good rushers and in Julius Thomas have a future stud at tight end, so let's not underestimate the size of the task the Chargers' defense faces.
How do you slow down Manning? Not let him have the ball of course, and that'll be the plan again for Mike McCoy's Chargers - who held the ball for almost 77 minutes over two games and limited Denver to their two lowest offensive snap counts of the season.
Logically you can't plan for containing Denver's ridiculous points-scoring machine, what you can do is try and limit the scoring and keep them off the field. San Diego have been running the ball superbly, with a season-high 196 yards last week, and that'll be the key for them springing an upset.
Wes Welker's return is a huge boost for Denver. The former Patriot has been out with concussion but even despite his absence he had 10 TDs and 18 red-zone receptions, second best in the league, and his presence not only offers an expert pair of hands for Manning but he will open up space for the wealth of other receiving talent.
Danny Woodhead is something of a Welker clone. Although he plays at running back he is well-used in the passing game and in fact tops the list of red-zone receptions this season. He'll be one to watch, especially if Ryan Mathews can't recover from his ankle injury.
Many of the stats and trends point to San Diego, but they're big underdogs for a reason, and that reason is the historic Denver offence. Last year's Baltimore defeat will be burning Manning, and he and the team will be sick and tired of the talk of San Diego being on a roll. A fired-up Denver is an even more frightening thought and although the Chargers have largely handled them twice, a third time might just be a step too far.