Broncos Hope to Avoid Another Divisional-Round Disappointment Against Chargers

Peyton ManningThe Denver Broncos entered the 2012 NFL playoffs on an 11-game winning streak — they weren’t beaten after a Week 5 defeat in New England — and were the Super Bowl betting favorites at Bovada. One of those wins came in Week 16 at Baltimore, when Denver led 17-0 at the half and was never challenged again in a 34-17 victory.

When Denver and Baltimore met again in the playoffs, the Ravens were a 9 1/2-point underdog to the rested Broncos at home. We all know what happened: a stunning, 70-yard Joe Flacco-to-Jacoby Jones touchdown pass with 31 seconds left tied the game at 35-35, and Baltimore kicked the winning field goal at 13:18 of the second overtime shortly after a Peyton Manning interception.

Fast-forward to now. and the Broncos are again the AFC betting favorites at 10-13 (Patriots are 7-2) and the conference’s top seed. They aren’t quite as hot as last year, losing two of their final six games — Week 12 in Foxboro and a shocker at home to San Diego in Week 15. However, Manning is better than a season ago. He set NFL records with 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns and is a lock to win a fifth MVP Award. The Broncos also set an NFL record with 606 points.

Could there be some trepidation after last year’s failure and Manning’s less-than-impressive playoff record? Denver opened as a 10-point favorite for Sunday’s AFC divisional game against visiting San Diego, the third meeting of the season between the AFC West rivals.

The Chargers were the biggest upset winners on wild-card weekend, 27-10 in Cincinnati as 7-point underdogs. Cincinnati led 10-7 at the half before San Diego scored 20 straight after the intermission thanks in large part to three turnovers from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had just 128 yards passing but did not turn the ball over. It was the Bengals’ first home loss of the season, and they still haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, the longest drought in the league.

It was San Diego’s first playoff win since beating Manning’s Colts 23-17 in overtime on Jan. 3, 2009. Manning also is only 3-4 in career home games against San Diego. That includes that Week 15 27-20 loss to the Bolts, who were 10-point underdogs. The Chargers trailed that game 10-3 entering the second quarter before scoring 21 straight points. They have now won four of their past five road games against Manning-led teams. Rivers threw for 166 yards and two scores, and Ryan Mathews ran 29 times for 127 yards. Manning was 27 of 41 for 289 yards, two scores and a pick in Denver’s only home loss this season. The Broncos rushed for a scant 18 yards.

In Week 10 at San Diego, the Broncos won 28-20. Manning was stellar in that one, passing for 330 yards and four touchdowns. Denver played without head coach John Fox after his heart surgery.