Over the next few weeks, we'll analyze the NFL playoffs using EA Sports' powerhouse football simulation, Madden NFL 25, determining the pros and cons of each team and picking an overall winner.
For our final contest for the weekend, we're looking at the San Diego Chargers, coming off a surprising win last week against the Bengals, as they march into Sports Authority Field to take on the devastating passing attack of Peyton Manning and his new squad, the Denver Broncos.
It'll be a fight to the finish, but who emerges the winner? Interesting question…so let's find out!
San Diego Chargers: Madden NFL 25 Team Rating: 73
Last week, we predicted that the Chargers would be the poor underdog to the thriving Bengals, especially since they were playing away from their beloved field in San Diego. Surprise, Philip Rivers and his squad pulled out an impressive victory, earning the right to face off against the Broncos once again. The question is, can they pull off another surprise victory, like they did in Cincinnati?
Leading the charge, obviously, is Philip Rivers. He's a tough quarterback who's played through a lot of injuries over the years, and despite the occasional interception or fumble, he's maintained a strong presence on the field with completions and touchdowns galore. He didn't get 4,500 yards by accident.
The rest of his offense has also been quite capable of getting the job done. Ryan Mathews, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead have each contributed in their own special way, with an average of 395 yards per game team-wide, and around 25 points scored on average. There's a reason they've been playoff darlings, first against the Chiefs to barely eke their way in, and then last week against the Bengals.
Playing With the Chargers
The Broncos' defense isn't nearly as susceptible to error as the Chiefs or the Bengals. These guys will go all in and try to crush Rivers every chance they get, especially being empowered by the home Mile High crowd. With that, you'll need to make sure Rivers has some good plays up his sleeve.
This is a good time to Ask Madden first-hand, as you'll see suggestions that will work best in San Diego's favor. Try for a few middle-range passes at first, and don't forget to hand off the ball to Gates or a few receivers that can find gaps. Champ Bailey will be on his toes, along with the rest of the team, so watch out for them. Keep Rivers moving, and get the ball in the air once a receiver opens up.
On defense, Manning will be a beast. You have been warned. This veteran knows exactly how to get the ball down the field, whether it's with a star runner or his own viable arm. However, the team has been known in the pass to show cracks in the armor later on in the game. Locate these and take advantage – bring Manning down to the ground when you see an opening, and watch what receivers do. Who knows, the Chargers just might have an upset as the Ravens did last year. Maybe.
Denver Broncos – Madden NFL 25 Team Rating: 89
After a disappointing playoff loss to the Ravens on a last-second play last year, the Denver Broncos have come back recharged and better than ever. With veteran quarterback Peyton Manning leading the crusade to Super Bowl glory, the team has mustered a 13-3 record over the season, securing home field advantage and a huge shot at the championship.
Manning has been on fire this season, setting a number of unprecedented passing and yardage records. He's not along, as his superstar offense has been backing him around every turn. This includes Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno, and, hopefully, the retuning Wes Welker. Having the whole team available to get offense moving could be the key to the team's victory, and moving on to the championship round.
The Broncos' defense will have its hands full with the Chargers' manipulative offense, but the squad will certainly be up to the challenge, with Champ Bailey and his team proving able to keep them from getting the vital first downs over the course of four quarters. It's just a matter of maintaining said momentum throughout the entire game, and eventually making it theirs – just as they've done 13 times this season.
Playing As the Broncos
You can't go wrong with Manning. Like, in the least. The important thing with Manning is to make sure his receivers are wide open. Welker and Decker should have no problem getting open for a catch down the field, so don't be afraid to go for a long pass when the situation calls for it. Try to be quick about it, though, as a lofty pass has better chance of being intercepted than the "bullets" that Manning is known for.
Also, make sure you throw in running plays. Moreno has managed to eat up a bunch of yards this season in his own right, proving to be a turn-around since the Josh McDaniels era. The rest of the team is capable of getting some opportunities open for him, so take them when you get the chance. The Chargers defense isn't exactly known for being gracious.
As for the Chargers' defense, watch out for Rivers. When he's on fire, he's almost unstoppable, and the team has a way of eating up clock time when they really need to, with players running out of bounds and using time-outs. Find the time to strike and push the team back from the first yard marker, and the ball will soon be back in Manning's hands – just where it needs to be.
So Who Wins?
Madden NFL 25 gave the Chargers a weaker ranking this year, probably because of its hasty season ending game last year, while the Broncos, despite its loss to the Ravens, thrived on.
This may explain the 45-21 score we ended up with in our simulation game, with Manning putting up big-time numbers. We could easily say this could be the case on Sunday, but, seeing as how the Chargers have fooled us before, we have to give them a slight nod this time around. They could upset again.
Note the word "could," though. As we said, this is Manning's house, and the Broncos remember their abrupt loss last year to the Ravens. Don't look for that to be a repeat issue here. The team will win by about 10 points ahead – not a blowout, but they'll get what they need to move on to the championship round. This is Manning's year. Again.
Madden NFL 25 is available now for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.