Denver Broncos (Week 11–Home, Week 17–Away)
Much like the Chiefs in recent years, the Broncos have provided the Chargers a puzzle they struggle to solve. Since the 2011 campaign, the Broncos are a dominant 10-4 against the Bolts in regular-season action. The last two years have been a different story. The AFC West combatants are 2-2 against each other since 2016, with the home team winning each match.
Expect the trend to continue this coming season.
This Denver squad is one of the NFL’s most intriguing and somewhat mysterious teams. Unlike the previous pair of teams discussed, the Broncos’ defense will not be riddled with major concerns. Their pass rush duo of six-time Pro Bowler Von Miller and rookie stud Bradley Chubb is arguably the NFL’s best pairing, if not top two or three.
Aside from Miller and Chubb, Denver’s front-seven also includes linebacker Brandon Marshall and defensive end Derek Wolfe, two of the league’s most consistent defensive players. The Broncos secondary lost cornerback Aqib Talib to the Rams in the offseason, but their defensive backfield of cornerbacks Chris Harris, Bradley Roby and safeties Darian Stewart and Justin Simmons is still stingy.
Even without Talib, Denver’s secondary is capable of giving Rivers a stiff challenge. Getting over 200 passing yards was a hassle for the Chargers’ quarterback last season, as he recorded 192 and 183 air yards respectively in L.A.’s two battles with the Broncos. Rivers totaled five touchdown strikes and one interception in those games, but maintaining the same scoring efficiency is not sustainable.
Where mysteries lie with the Broncos is their offense. After opening last season 3-0, the 2017 Denver attack was abysmal, as the quarterback carousel of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler brought zero semblance of stability under center. Their mundane offense contributed greatly to L.A.’s 21-0 victory in Week 7.
Insert longtime journeyman Case Keenum as the presumed solution. The 30-year-old quarterback was miraculous in the Minnesota Vikings’ run to the NFC Championship Game last season. Keenum posted a career-high 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 14 starts in 2017, finishing with 11-3 record.
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But last season was an outlier for the seven-year veteran when considering his prior resume. In his previous six seasons with the Rams and Houston Texans, Keenum was a 9-15 starter with 24 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. This included a 2016 campaign where he threw nine scores to 11 picks and completed just 60.9 percent of his passes. Keenum went 4-5 that season.
Which version of Keenum the Broncos receives remains to be seen, but taking a chance on a possible one-hit wonder is extremely risky. The 6-foot-1 signal caller will be surrounded by a receiving corps featuring wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Denver’s top two pass-catchers have seen a decline in production since future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning retired in 2015.
As long as Miller and Chubb are in the lineup, the Broncos’ defense will give the Chargers’ offense a sturdy test. Denver’s offense will be a wild card, not only against L.A., but for the duration of the 2018 season, even though Keenum believes the attack could be special. But Rivers always struggles at Mile High, and each squad will claim a home victory.