|11-17-2006, 07:03 AM||#1|
The Enigma Prognosis
Join Date: Aug 2003
The Wild Wild West
First … San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
Unless you believe the Jets will pressure the Patriots for the AFC East title, which is still a little unlikely, the best and only race left in the AFC is in the AFC West.
As expected, the Chargers and Broncos are in a dogfight that should last until the end of the season. The Chargers won the division in 2004 but fell short of the playoffs last year because of one of the league's toughest schedules. This season, the schedule is significantly easier and the Chargers are in a dead heat with the Broncos at 7-2.
The first battle between the two is Sunday night in Denver, with a rematch scheduled Dec. 10 in San Diego. There is some predictability to this series (the home team usually wins) and the way the games are played. The Broncos have won the past six games in Denver while the Chargers have won four of the last five in San Diego.
In Denver's most recent wins at home, Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer usually escapes the pocket and works his magic. In their recent home wins, the Chargers have contained Plummer in the pocket with their 3-4 defense. Restricted to the pocket, Plummer is pretty much a 50 percent passer, not tall enough to see completely over the line and not the most accurate when he's not throwing out of the three-step drop in the pocket.
The Chargers will have a hard time restricting Plummer in the pocket because they'll be without one -- possibly two -- of their best defensive players. Linebacker Shawne Merriman is just halfway through his four-game suspension for the use of a supplement and defensive end Luis Castillo is nursing a high ankle sprain and is questionable. Without both players, the Chargers gave up 41 points Sunday in a victory over the Bengals.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Averaging 33 points a game, LT and Philip Rivers have had plenty to celebrate.
But Mike Shanahan doesn't come into this game with a confident offense. The Broncos are averaging only 17.6 points a game and have just 17 touchdown drives in 107 possessions. Shanahan is getting impatient. He's juggled running backs. Last week, he benched right tackle George Foster and running back Mike Bell.
Though Plummer has played a little better in recent weeks, his numbers pale in comparison to the Chargers' Philip Rivers. Plummer has completed only 55.2 percent of his passes and has a 71.6 quarterback rating. In nine games, Plummer has put only 28 points on the board in the first quarter.
The Chargers, thanks to Rivers and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, lead the league with a 33-point scoring average. Rivers has a 66.4 completion percentage and a 100.4 quarterback rating. LaDainian Tomlinson has 16 rushing touchdowns and 18 total.
Will this be a defensive game or an offensive shootout? It's hard to tell. Shanahan and Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer have been dominating the AFC West for two decades. Schottenheimer had the winning formula in Kansas City that usually put the Chiefs in the playoffs. He did it with great defense and solid running.
Though he started the regular season with a conservative form of MartyBall, Schottenheimer has opened it up for Rivers now that the first-year starter has shown he can handle the complexities of the passing offense. This game should be a classic.