The Chargers have had a rocky season, to put it mildly. Prior to the 2008 season, they were installed as the favorites to not only win the division, but possibly claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC, if not the No. 2 seed.
A trip to the injured reserve, an ineffective ground game, a bad run of luck, and 15 games later, San Diego sits at 7-8. The only reason that they still have playoff hopes is that the Broncos have failed to put the division away after staking an early lead and the Chargers have refused to remit, winning three straight.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
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Indianapolis already defeated the Chargers in Week 12. Though they escaped on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal, they still proved that they could win in a hostile environment that, at that point, was essentially a do-or-die playoff environment.
San Diego's running game, along with lead back LaDainian Tomlinson, is gasping for air and has been ineffective at best and stagnant at worst, even against some of the most porous run defenses in the league. Their pass defense is similarly impotent and ranks near the bottom of the league. This plays right into the Colts hands, since they are among the worst at stopping the run and among the best at passing the ball.
The Chargers are among the best in passing offense and rushing defense, which also plays to the strengths of the Colts, since Indianapolis is inept at running the ball and among the best in the league at defending the pass, having only given up five passing touchdowns all season.
Possibly the only team stung more savagely by the injury bug than the Colts has been the Broncos, who have been without their primary linebackers and the first several strings of their running back depth chart — they had to insert rookie reserve fullback Peyton Hillis in at starting tailback due to injuries — as well as All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey.
However, even with the services of their primary defenders in the back seven and with the starting contributors in the running game, Denver was ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in total defense and rushing offense through most of the season.
QB Jay Cutler
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It is and always has been the Jay Cutler Show on offense in 2008 for the Broncos, which, again, works to the advantage of the Colts, since they have one of the most stifling pass defenses in the league.
But, one thing to keep in mind that is a concept with which Colts fans are very familiar: Once a set of backups, even if they are replacing star players — has been in the lineup for a significant period of time, they are essentially starters and no different in terms of favorable matchups than the men they are replacing.
At this point, the Colts are fighting a system. They have been successful against the defensive systems of the Broncos in the past, but they have been torn to pieces by offenses that run the zone blocking/one cut run offense that Denver likes to run — particularly Steve Slaton and the Houston Texans.
Who They Should Play:
If luck continues to favor the Colts, they will play the Broncos. Denver continues to be beset by injuries, the injuries mount every week, and coach Mike Shanahan is running out of capable replacements. They have also lost three straight, while the Chargers have won four straight.
At this time of year, a lot of postseason success is tied to momentum and "putting it together at the right time." Colts fans have experienced this phenomenon first-hand and it seems to be the common thread that ties the last three Super Bowl champions together.
Indianapolis will have to play a road playoff game regardless, which is always a tough proposition. But, they will be far more confident facing a wounded team that limped into the playoffs having lost three of their last four than a team that caught fire at the proper moment, winning four straight and facing a home playoff game in front of a fan base that needs something to cheer about.
Of course, it goes without saying that the Chargers have traditionally matched up well against the Colts while the Broncos have traditionally matched up poorly. When the playoffs come along, you're looking at momentum, match-ups, and health.
Denver is a considerably more attractive opponent in all facets and Colts fans should be cheering for a Broncos victory on Sunday.