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Manning and Rivers duel Sunday in San Diego
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 11/10/2013  at  3:39:00 AM
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DENVER BRONCOS (7-1)
at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-4)

Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Line: Denver -6.5, Total: 57.5

The Broncos are well-rested coming off a bye week, but will not have head coach John Fox when they visit the Chargers on Sunday.

Fox is recovering from heart surgery and will be replaced by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. San Diego lost 30-24 in overtime at Washington last week, but is 3-0 ATS at home this year. This game features the AFC’s top two quarterbacks in Denver’s Peyton Manning (2,919 pass yards, 29 TD, 6 INT) and Chargers QB Philip Rivers (2,473 pass yards, 17 TD, 7 INT). Manning threw for 579 yards, 6 TD and 2 INT in last year’s sweep of the Chargers, while Rivers struggled with just 499 yards, 4 TD and 6 INT. However, Rivers won't have to worry about Denver's top CB Champ Bailey, who is out with a foot injury. The only other significant injury in this game is Broncos TE Julius Thomas, who left the last game with a sprained ankle, but is expected to be ready for Sunday. Denver has been a great bet coming off a bye, going 14-1 ATS when playing with 2+ weeks of rest since 1992, but San Diego has a huge trend in its favor too, as any team after five straight games of forcing one or less turnovers facing an opponent after a game where they committed 3+ turnovers are a robust 43-15 ATS (74%) since 1983.

Can the Broncos record another comfortable win over the AFC West rival Chargers? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts are heating up in NFL Best Bets, combining for a 58% ATS record (43-31-2) over the past five weeks, including 77% ATS (10-3) in Week 8. StatFox Scott is 61% ATS (11-7) in the past four weeks, while StatFox Brian went 3-1 ATS in Week 8, marking his fifth straight week of finishing .500 or better. StatFox Dave was a perfect 3-0 ATS in Week 8, as was StatFox Gary (2-0 ATS), who improved to 63% ATS (10-6-1) in NFL Best Bets over the past five weeks.

The Broncos' offense leads the NFL in most major categories, including scoring (42.9 PPG), total offense (466.4 YPG), yards per play (6.4), passing offense (358.5 YPG), third down conversions (50.5%) and red zone efficiency (78.4%). They have been able to do this with a hurry-up attack that has been on the field for only 30:34 (14th in NFL). The only negative of this offense is a ground game averaging a mere 3.7 yards per carry (25th in league) and 107.8 YPG (17th in league). RB Knowshon Moreno has rushed for less than 50 yards in three straight games, but has contributed heavily as a receiver during this span with 160 yards through the air, having been targeted a whopping 22 times by QB Peyton Manning. The veteran signal caller has thrown for at least 295 yards and two touchdowns in all eight games this season, and has done so with a near equal distribution of targets to his top three wide receivers with 71 to Wes Welker (555 rec. yards, 9 TD), 70 to Eric Decker (669 rec. yards, 3 TD) and 68 to Demaryius Thomas (685 rec. yards, 6 TD). TE Julius Thomas has also had a breakout season with 451 receiving yards and 8 TD and despite spraining his ankle in the last game, it appears that he will play on Sunday. When it comes to stopping the run, the Denver defense has been outstanding, allowing a mere 81.5 yards per game (3rd in NFL) on 3.4 yards per carry (2nd in league). But defending the pass has been a different story with the Broncos surrendering 299.1 YPG (3rd-most in NFL). They did produce four interceptions against the Redskins in the last game, which was quite surprising considering they had only three picks in the previous five contests combined. But the secondary will have to step up because the Chargers also have an excellent passing game.

San Diego has thrown for 300 YPG (4th in NFL) on a hefty 8.4 yards per attempt (3rd in league) as QB Philip Rivers has already eclipsed 400 passing yards three times this season. Despite being without his two starting wide receivers (Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd) for the majority of the season, Rivers has been able to complete more than 25 passes to five different players. TE Antonio Gates leads the team with 550 receiving yards, RB Danny Woodhead has a team-high 49 catches and WR Eddie Royal leads the club with seven touchdowns. But recently, it's been rookie WR Keenan Allen who has emerged as the top target, pulling in 31 catches for 497 yards and 3 TD over the past five games. The Chargers' run game has been inconsistent over the past four weeks with rushing totals of 32, 147, 158 and 69 yards. Top RB Ryan Mathews had back-to-back 100-yard games in two straight wins, but carried the football just seven times in last week's OT loss. But even though the Broncos' run defense has been pretty strong in recent years, Mathews has always had big performances against them with 503 rushing yards (4.6 YPC) and 3 TD in five career meetings. While the offense is in good shape, the San Diego defense has been pretty terrible all year in both defending the pass (8.5 YPA, 2nd-worst in NFL) and the run (4.9 YPC, 3rd-worst in league). The Chargers have also allowed opponents to convert 42.3% of third downs (27th in NFL), but surrender only 21.8 PPG (T-11th in league) because they are on the field for just 28:20 (6th-fewest in NFL). This defense has to start making plays though, with 0-to-1 takeaways in all eight games this season. The pass rush has also been weak with 0-to-2 sacks in five of eight contests, and if Peyton Manning doesn't see a lot of pressure, he will pick this team apart.

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