The Chargers sneaked into the playoffs and then convincingly beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-10, in the wild-card game last Sunday.
Denver, led by the record-setting Peyton Manning, heads into the game as nearly double-digit favorites after outscoring opponents by an average of 20.4 points this season.
But the late-surging Chargers are starting to believe in their chances of victory after winning the last six of their seven games.
San Diego defeated the Broncos, 27-20, at Mile High Stadium just last month in their most recent meeting. Earlier in the season, the Broncos won, 28-20, in San Diego. That’s the Broncos ahead overall, 48-47.
“It’s tough to say you’re confident knowing what you’re going against. You don’t want to take that the wrong way,” Chargers Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said (via Associated Press). “Do we believe we can win [again]? Yes. Do we know what a tough challenge it is and how great we have to play? Yeah. It’s not just because it’s happened in the past it’s going to happen. You still have to play at a high level and do the things necessary as a team to win.”
The Chargers may have to do so without the services of running back Ryan Mathews and center Nick Hardwick, who have both missed two consecutive practices.
Without Mathews, the team’s leading rusher, it’ll be tougher to keep up offensively with the scoring-juggernaut Broncos.
Manning set the stage with a seven-touchdown performance in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens and has continued to roll throughout the year, setting single-season records in passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
The only blemish on the four-time league MVP is that he seems to falter during the postseason. Manning, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title in 2006, has lost his last three playoff games, and is only 1-4 in divisional-round home games.
“I think each season takes on its own identity and different things occurred along the way at different points of my career — in anybody’s career,” said Manning, who is 37 and less than three years removed from a neck surgery (via NFL.com). “This is the 2013 season, 2014 postseason, and it’s its own chapter. We’re looking forward to hopefully writing it for a number of more weeks.”
The winner of the game will play either the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots on Jan. 19.