Dec 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach John Fox (left) and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) greet each other after the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Chargers won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Here are five things to watch for as the Denver Broncos try to advance to their first AFC championship game in eight years:
RIVERS OWNS DENVER:
Peyton Manning is 14-3 at home since joining the Broncos two years ago, but Philip Rivers is no slouch in Denver, where he's 6-2. And he'd be 7-1 if not for Ed Hochuli's blown call on a last-minute Denver fumble in 2008.
He won here a month ago, when the Chargers handed the Broncos their only home loss, 27-20.
"I don't know that I'm necessarily comfortable there," Rivers said. "It's a great place to play and it's a tough place to play. It's an awesome place to play. It's as first class as it comes from the atmosphere in the stadium and the fans and the whole deal. It's NFL football at its best."
WIND WARNING: While it's expected to be 44 degrees at kickoff, swirling winds could wreak havoc on Manning and Rivers, who combined to throw for 9,925 yards this season. Winds are predicted at 15-25 mph with gusts up to 35.
Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase says wind worries him more than cold.
"I know if it's a windy condition game, I might think we should run the ball more," Gase said recently. "... Any time you get a condition of wind, that's when I see that it's hard for the passing, because you don't know what's going to happen."
BRONCOS REINFORCEMENTS: The Broncos didn't have captains Champ Bailey (foot) and Wes Welker (concussion) the last time these teams played, but both are healthy now.
Without them, the Broncos were just 2 of 9 on third down and Rivers picked on rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster all night.
Bailey teams with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris Jr. to give Denver three solid cornerbacks.
BALANCED BRONCOS: Of the 23 players who reached the end zone 10 or more times this season, five of them are Broncos: Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Welker (10).
"That tells you about the players we have on our team, the way Peyton spreads the ball out, how anybody can score at any given time," Denver wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said.
None of the other teams left standing have more than one double-digit TD scorer, and San Diego has none.
TIME OF POSSESSION: The Broncos were held under 65 snaps twice all season, both times by San Diego.
The Chargers controlled the clock for more than 38 minutes in both games, but it's not only up to Denver's defense to change that, the Broncos say.
"We have to do a better job of staying on the field," Julius Thomas said. "If we don't want the Chargers to run the ball and run the ball, then we have to make sure we're running the ball well and we're executing."
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