Jussel: Win today, and Broncos have great shot in West

There are some who think today’s Broncos-Chargers game is a big deal. Big deal is understating it.

It’s Big, Bigger, Biggest. That’s how big it is.

Win this one in Denver and the Broncos improve to 7-3, while the Chargers — the only real competition in the AFC West this season — drop to 4-6. That would put Denver three games in front in the division and holding the wildcard edge in head-to-head competition over the Chargers, meaning the Broncos essentially would own a four-game edge with six to go.

With a Bronco win today, the Chargers would have to win five of their remaining six games to finish 9-7, while Denver would have to drop five of six to finish 8-8. Neither scenario is likely.

If the Broncos lose this one, however, Denver would be 6-4, the Chargers would be 5-5, and there would be no Denver edge in the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Simply put, a Bronco win virtually guarantees a division title. Lose it, and it’s a war the remaining six weeks of the season.

That’s how big this one is.

The Chargers will come into this game at New Mile High desperate, with revenge on their minds after Denver’s mind-numbing 35-point rally in the second half a month ago in San Diego — the turning point of the season for both teams to this point?

It won’t matter.

The Chargers are a mess from top down.

They have an owner in Alex Spanos and chairman in Dean Spanos who love head coach Norv Turner. Turner has been on the hot seat for at least two years and is now dangling by a thread as he continues to face an onslaught of calls for his ouster from fans.

They have a quarterback in Philip Rivers who is known as the biggest whiner in the sport, a frontrunner who yips at opponents mercilessly when ahead, sits on the sidelines shaking his head in wonderment at misfortune when behind.

The entire team is a mistake waiting to happen. Examples? There are plenty, especially in the past five games, of which they have lost four, winning only over hapless Kansas City.

Go back five weeks in New Orleans. The Chargers are ahead 10 points in the third quarter. A key roughing-the-passer penalty on a second-and-16 gives New Orleans life and eventually a touchdown. Rivers is sacked three times in two possessions and throws an interception. The Chargers are penalized for having 12 defenders on the field, and it’s another Saints touchdown and a 31-24 win.

A month ago, it’s the fabled Denver comeback in San Diego from a 24-point deficit at halftime as Peyton Manning goes 13 of 14 in the half for 167 yards. Oh yes, Rivers is intercepted four times, two of those being returned for a TD.

Two weeks ago, the Chargers go to Cleveland to face the terrible Browns, plus rain and 40 mph winds. Think they handled the tough conditions? Rivers goes 18 of 34 for 154 yards, and Robert Meachem drops a potential game-winning TD pass in the late going.

And last week, the Chargers outgain Tampa Bay 426 yards to 279, have 23 first downs to 12 and hold a 13-minute time advantage with the football. Oh yes, they lose 34-24 as the Bucs score on a blocked punt and yet another interception return for a TD off Rivers.

This is the team Denver has to beat today.

Many of the stats are relatively equal.

The Chargers run the ball for 105 yards per game, Denver for 102. The Chargers allow 317 yards and 21.2 points per game, Denver 316 yards and 21 points per game.

Where Denver has the edge is in the passing game, with Manning averaging 299 yards per game, compared to Rivers’ 229. Manning also thrown for 21 TDs and been picked six times (remember, three of those came in the same quarter against Atlanta), while Rivers has 15 TDs and 12 interceptions. Rivers has been sacked 22 times, Manning only 11, only once in the past four games.

That’s the big difference in this one: Manning has been efficient, Rivers erratic.

Factor in the rapidly improving Denver pass rush and improving play of the young Bronco defensive backs, and this one becomes a no-brainer.

I’ll take my 7-2 record picking with or against Denver and say sayonara to the Chargers. Rivers pouts early and often, and it’s a 38-20 romp for the Broncos.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.

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up next: San Diego at Denver, 2:25 p.m. today
TV: Ch. 3, 5 (CBS)

Radio: 96.1-FM (KSTR)


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