CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 05: Running back Danny Woodhead #39 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates a first quarter touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during a Wild Card Playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 5, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
There is really only one common weather condition that will have an adverse effect on a football game: Wind.
Forget rain, snow, hot or cold. Those are annoyances. Wind can fundamentally change the way a game goes.
Most NFL quarterbacks can throw a football in the 50-60 MPH range. But, that's when they are really letting loose. Most of the time they're lower because they want accuracy, too.
So when the weather forecast for Denver calls for sustained winds of 20 MPH and gusts up to 50 MPH, that is cause for concern.
The kicking games could very well be a circus. The passing games will be "interesting." But the one thing that wind doesn't typically touch is the running game. Large men can move through wind a lot easier than a football can. So, the team that runs the ball the best will very likely be the one that wins.
And that leads us to our 3 players to watch:
Danny Woodhead, RB:
Ryan Mathews is a complete question mark. Even if he does play, he is nowhere near 100%. Ronnie Brown had a "turn back the clock" performance off the bench in Cincinnati, but he hasn't carried the ball as a feature back (20-plus times in a game) since the 2010 season. So if Mathews is ineffective with his ankle injury, it's Woodhead to the rescue. Danny carried 15 times for 54 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals, which was a season-high for carries. It also tied his career-high, so while 20 carries on Sunday is not ideal, it's not out of the question. Plus, you have a pretty good idea he's going to hang on to the ball (he's only fumbled five times in 72 career games).
D.J. Fluker, RT:
If the running game is going to be your primary weapon, you can do a lot worse than having D.J. to lead the way. Although the Bolts have run more often over the left end this season, Fluker is a run-blocking specialist who has cleared many a hole for San Diego backs in his rookie season. Fluker is also nursing a foot injury and is questionable for the game, as is the man next to him, Jeromey Clary (shoulder). But, both Big Fluke and Clary finished the game in Cincinnati. There's no reason to think they won't start it in Denver. If they are able to control the line of scrimmage against a Broncos defense missing Von Miller and Derek Wolfe, the Chargers will control the clock and do what they did so well when the beat the Broncos in December.
Jarret Johnson, OLB:
This whole run the football thing goes both ways, now, so if the wind is whipping and messing with Peyton Manning's laser-rocket arm (see an old commercial for that reference) the Broncos will be relying on their backs, as well. Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball and former Aztec Ronnie Hillman all average at least four yards per carry. Last time these teams met, when the Chargers won 27-20, Denver only ran the ball 11 times for 18 yards. That is not going to win you many games even if the wind is not blowing like crazy. Expect them to spend more time on the ground this time, and that's where Johnson comes in. He's long been one of the best run-defenders in the league, and this year has been no exception. Johnson missed five games this season with injuries. It's no coincidence that his return, which came at the same time as Melvin Ingram's return, came in the same game that started the Chargers' current 5-game winning streak.
I keep waiting for Peyton Manning to have one of those crazy playoff runs where he throws 15 touchdowns with no interceptions and wins another Super Bowl. But it just keeps not happening.
The Broncos are 13-4 all-time at home, but 0-1 with Manning at quarterback. Plus, Manning is 1-4 in division round games after having a first round bye, the worst record in that situation in NFL history.
I don 't see why that changes now. Give me the hot team over the Hall of Famer's squad.
Chargers 30, Broncos 27.
See you in Foxboro.