Monday Night Football
Denver @ San Diego
Although it was later reduced from 49.5 points down to 47 -- ostensibly due to Chargers LT Jared Gaither's expected inactivity, Broncos-Chargers entered the weekend with the highest over-under of any Week 6 game. Both teams' offenses match up well with the opposing defense, particularly the Denver pass game versus San Diego's secondary. Continuing to prove the naysayers wrong in what's so far been a top-three fantasy quarterback season, Peyton Manning's stats if you leave out the first quarter of the Week 2 Falcons game have improved to 123-of-187 (65.8 percent) for 1,454 yards (7.77 YPA), and an 11:0 TD-to-INT ratio through five games. Manning is just about all the way back, and he should have success throwing on San Diego's 20th-ranked pass defense Monday night. ... The Chargers' run-defense rank is No. 5 overall, but they're still tough to buy as a shutdown unit. Their 3.74 YPC allowed is good -- not great -- and they've faced what hindsight tells us is a weak running back schedule, aside from Jamaal Charles. (Charles lit them up for 111 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.18 YPC.) More involved in the passing game the past two weeks with a combined 11 catches on 12 targets, Willis McGahee should not struggle to run on this group. In his last three meetings with San Diego, McGahee has gone off for 321 yards and two touchdowns on 54 rushing attempts, good for a red-hot average of 5.94 yards a pop.
Remember the preseason debate? Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker; which receiver would be Manning's "No. 1"? Demaryius is winning that battle. Thomas leads Denver in targets on the year, and only Brian Hartline and Reggie Wayne began Week 6 with more receiving yards across the NFL. The Chargers' pass defense has allowed an 11:6 TD-to-INT ratio against while averaging just two sacks per game. Manning will have success picking on this unit, and Thomas is his go-to guy. ... Just based on early-season performance, Thomas also gets a more favorable coverage draw than Decker in Week 6. Thomas runs the majority of his routes down the left sideline, where he'll deal with RCB Antoine Cason. Chargers LCB Quentin Jammer is susceptible deep, but still covers the short to intermediate portions well. Decker remains a solid fantasy start, but I'd again bet on Thomas leading Denver in receiving this week. ... Manning's target distribution on the year: Thomas 46, Decker 44, Jacob Tamme 36, Brandon Stokley 20, McGahee 17, Joel Dreessen 16. ... Tamme has theoretically been targeted enough to achieve back-end TE1 status, but he's barely averaging over eight yards a catch and isn't scoring touchdowns. Tamme is the only Broncos pass catcher worth consideration behind Thomas and Decker, and he's just a fantasy backup.
Fantasy-minded folks know the truth, but Norv Turner might come out of this Ryan Mathews thing looking like a genius. Slow-playing Mathews in his Week 3 return, punishing him for no real good reason in Week 4, and lengthening his Week 5 leash before unleashing him in Week 6 could make it all appear to be some perfectly-designed plan. And the results will look really good if Mathews stays healthy and plays like he's capable. A dynamite, big-play back with explosive burst, moves, and power, Mathews was San Diego's best player in last Sunday's loss to New Orleans. He'll now deal with a Denver defense that ranks 21st against the run and has never been able to stop him. In three career meetings with the Broncos, Mathews has 382 yards on 72 carries (5.31 YPC) and three touchdowns. He's rushed for 120-plus yards in each of those games, and chipped in 31 additional yards on five receptions. Because the Broncos are so proficient at getting after opposing quarterbacks but leaky against the run, Mathews will continue to be the Chargers' best bet for ball movement on Monday night. ... Jackie Battle's unearned starting job has been stripped as fast as it was assigned, and he'll be reduced to ineffective pace-change back the rest of the way. Mathews owners can hold onto Battle as a handcuff, but that's all he is. ... Mathews is ready to explode. He'll face one run defense ranked higher than 19th in his next seven games.
It's popular to dance on Antonio Gates' grave. He's obviously done; look at this box score! Gates isn't done, though, and that couldn't have been clearer last week against the Saints. Gates still runs well, the Chargers are still trying to get him the ball in scoring position, and the statistics are soon to follow. Slow starts suck, but fantasy owners need to keep eyes ahead. An improved run game to distract double teams will be a difference maker for Gates' chances of getting open, and he needs to be started in projected shootouts like this. He's still San Diego's best receiver. ... Philip Rivers has scuffled against the Broncos recently, completing a combined 58-of-102 passes (56.9 percent) for 751 yards (7.36 YPA), two touchdowns, and two interceptions in his last three dates with Denver. With Gaither (groin) not expected to play, it's hard to trust Rivers' protection. I think he's a matchup play at this point, and this isn't a great matchup. ... The Broncos have used Champ Bailey in unpredictable ways this year. He shadowed Brandon Lloyd all over the field in Week 5 after playing 80 percent of his snaps in the first four games as strictly a left corner. Here's guessing Denver doesn't think enough of Malcom Floyd to follow him around with Bailey, and Champ stays "home" at LCB for the majority of Monday night. If so, he's going to deal with Robert Meachem for most of the game. Floyd would get the more favorable draw against Broncos RCB Chris Harris, who's filling in for starter Tracy Porter. Porter (illness) didn't even make the trip.
Score Prediction: Broncos 27, Chargers 24