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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 7:00 PM

It wasn’t that long ago when the San Diego Chargers went into Denver and stunned the Broncos in a nationally televised Thursday Night game. And, it’s not like they stole the victory with a bunch of lucky plays. They owned the point of attack, took Peyton Manning out of his game, and were the superior team that evening.

Did Denver learn from its mistakes?

*Don’t take good teams with veteran quarterbacks too lightly

*Don’t let teams run the clock at will while your star sits and watches

*Don’t assume opponents are going to lay down and let you blow them out in a big game

If Denver doesn’t fix those issues, then they could drop their Playoff opener for the second season in a row. Remember when they took the Baltimore Ravens too lightly, and were shocked to find themselves in a nailbiter in the final minutes? If Denver does fix its problems…it won’t mean just a win Sunday…it could mean a march to the Super Bowl and another Lombardi Trophy for Hall-of-Fame-bound Manning.

 

Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)

San Diego: 9-7 (#19 schedule in USA Today)

Denver: 13-3 (#24 schedule in USA Today)

Denver was the better team, even with that loss. Remember that the teams split the season series after the Broncos won in San Diego. But, as was the case last year, Denver probably isn’t as good as everyone thinks. They played an easy schedule again…and are ideally suited to run up the score on weak opposition Denver is much closer to being a coin flip vs. top opposition than the nation realizes. Does San Diego qualify as “top” competition in terms of being a legitimate Super Bowl threat? That’s for handicappers to decide.

 

Yards-Per Play

San Diego: 5.9 on offense, 6.1 on defense

Denver: 6.3 on offense, 5.3 on defense

It’s tough to be very impressed with the Chargers when they had a negative differential in this key stat! They were better down the stretch than the numbers above would suggest. But, their defense was a big problem all year. The offense has to run clock to keep their own defense from killing the team. That’s particularly true in this case because you don’t want a 6.3 offense on the field all day against a 6.1 defense.

 

Turnover Differential

San Diego: -4

Denver: even

Those are poor numbers for playoff teams…and a big strike against either team running the table in the next few weeks. Even with reigning in Philip Rivers to emphasize conservative passing, the Chargers managed a negative turnover differential against a slightly below average schedule. And, the Broncos managing only break even against a poor schedule is awful. Too many fumbles! In the cases of both…defenses who aren’t particularly intimidating in the area of forcing miscues.

 

Market Performance

San Diego: 9-6-1 ATS

Denver: 10-5-1 ATS

Even with the negatives we’ve just listed (poor San Diego defense, disappointing turnover differentials), both teams still made money for their backers. Denver runs up the score when things are going well, which keeps oddsmakers from finding a true sweet spot for their prices as favorites. San Diego got hot down the stretch and continued to play above expectations.

 

Current Line: Denver by 9, total 55

 

Tricky indeed. Denver runs up the score when things are going well…and things could certainly go well in a revenge spot after a bye against a tired team that may be running low on fuel after a string of dramatic decisions. But, if San Diego can keep doing what worked so well a few weeks ago, another upset is certainly possible. That line could literally be off by two touchdowns in either direction. And, the Over/Under is just as vulnerable because a Denver blowout could fly into the 70’s while a San Diego grinder could stay in the 40’s.

JIM HURLEY knows how important the last football game of the weekend is. If you lost with your own picks, you need a bailout. If you’ve been cashing tickets, you want to finish things off with a major score. He’ll have the final word in Chargers/Broncos posted for you Sunday morning here at the website (along with 49ers/Panthers in the early game!). If you want to talk about longterm packages, including a basketball-football mix that takes you through the Super Bowl or March Madness, call the office Sunday morning at 1-888-777-4155.

Back with you in the NOTEBOOK Monday to talk some more college basketball. The BIG MONDAY matchup featuring Kansas at Iowa State is suddenly HUGE because the Cyclones are having such a great season. It will be a hoop heavy week until the AFC and NFC Championship games arrive next weekend. Are you winning SEVEN DAYS A WEEK?! It’s time to start with the biggest name in sports handicapping, JIM HURLEY!

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