MNF Chaser: Broncos-Chargers

Peyton Manning's performed well, but the defense has led to Broncos losses. AP Photo/Steven Senne

The Denver Broncos battle for first place in the AFC West when they go on the road to face the San Diego Chargers on "Monday Night Football."

These two teams provide a lesson in contrast. For the 3-2 Chargers, expectations were low this season after losing their No. 1 wide receiver Vincent Jackson in free agency. With several under-the-radar free-agent additions (Jarret Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal), it was unknown if San Diego could compete in the AFC West.

An easy early season schedule has helped (third-easiest in the NFL according to TeamRankings.com), but the Chargers' defense has been improved this season, ranking 16th in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings as opposed to 29th last year.

The Broncos on the other hand were a trendy Super Bowl pick entering the season, but sit at only 2-3. However, the second-toughest schedule in the NFL certainly has not eased Peyton Manning's transition back into playing quarterback. After an impressive Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos have lost to elite teams (Atlanta, Houston, New England) with a blowout win over the Oakland Raiders sandwiched in between. Denver has fallen behind too often against good teams, and although Manning has almost brought them back three times, the defense's inability to get off the field on third down (opponents converting 46.67 percent of third downs; 28th in the NFL) and fumbles lost (seven; third-most in NFL) have derailed the Broncos' chances.

The Broncos, however, do have two pass-rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil who can get after the quarterback. And, despite all of the talk surrounding Manning's arm strength, Denver is averaging 7.3 yards per pass (10th) and Manning is first in ESPN's Total QBR rating at 80.4, going into Monday night's game.

Denver is 2-3 against the spread this year, with an average margin of cover of plus-4.3 points (in large part because of a 37-6 blowout win over the Raiders), while San Diego is 3-2 ATS with a MOC of plus-3.2 points. The public is on the Broncos to the tune of 57.7 percent as well, according to ESPN Insider's PickCenter.

Wiseguys jumped on the opening line of San Diego minus-3, and it moved all the way to Denver minus-1 before coming back to Chargers minus-1. That is because of a combination of the public liking Manning and the number clearly being too high to open.

As we do every week, let's get analysis of the line and total and a pick from the professionals. Line and total analysis is from bookmaker Jay Kornegay of the Las Vegas Hotel, and the ATS pick is from handicapper Geoff Kulesa, aka Wunderdog.

Matchup: Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers