Thursday Night Fantasy Starters: Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers And Julius Thomas

By Steve Silverman

The Chargers and the Broncos have something more on their minds than the epic fantasy battle that is at hand when they meet in Denver Thursday night.

While the battle between Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning could light up the scoreboard, these are the two best teams in the AFC West and they are playing to establish position for the second half of the season. If the Chargers can come up with a win on the road, they will tie the Broncos for first, but if Manning and the Broncos come away with the victory, they will have a two-game lead.

Defense could play a much bigger role than many fans would expect. Especially if the game is close in the second half. At that point, either one of these teams could play to control the clock and establish field position.

However, a lot of points could still be scored, and whoever has the ball last may win this game.

Chargers players

QB Philip Rivers – In the past, Rivers would have taken the frustration that goes with losing a winnable game like the one the Chargers dropped Sunday against the Chiefs into the next game. Not any longer, thanks to his partnership with head coach Mike McCoy. Rivers has moved on and should be prepared for a big game here. If he can throw for 325 yards and three TDs, his MVP season gets back on track. PLAY HIM

RB Branden Oliver – The Broncos are not stupid and they have seen what Oliver has done the past three weeks (282 yards and two TDs), and they will attempt to prepare for him. However, Oliver may be better than the Broncos think, and he should have a productive game with 80 yards and a score. PLAY HIM

TE Antonio Gates – This has been a remarkable year for Gates, as he has already caught seven TD passes and has been one of the top red zone factors in the league. Few tight ends have ever been able to wall off defensive backs like Gates, and he should be primed for a big effort here. The Broncos may think they have his number because they held Gates to six catches for 85 yards in two games last year, but they are wrong. He hits them with two TD catches. PLAY HIM

Broncos players

QB Peyton Manning – He doesn’t have a record to set this week, but Manning just continues on his consistent roll. He has thrown 19 TD passes already, meaning he is averaging better than three TD passes per game. Manning certainly knows how to comport himself in big regular-season games, and he should be on track for 300 yards and three more TDs against the Chargers. PLAY HIM

RB Ronnie Hillman – You have to admire Hillman’s hard-running style (240 yards, 4.4 ypc and 2 TDs) and the fact that he has taken advantage of his opportunity to take over as the Broncos’ No. 1 running back as a result of the Montee Ball (groin) injury. However, head coach John Fox is well aware of Hillman’s past fumbling problems and he may feel uneasy giving him the ball in this big game. BENCH HIM

TE Julius Thomas – Thomas was very quiet in Manning’s record-setting game vs. the 49ers on Sunday as he caught six passes for 27 yards and did not get into the endzone. That marks the first time this year that the tight end has not scored this year. Look for him to come out of the lockerroom ready to roll and begging Manning to get him the ball. Big JT scores twice in this game. PLAY HIM

***

Steve Silverman has been writing, talking about and playing fantasy football since the early 1990s. He co-hosted Fantasy Football Weekly, the first Fantasy Football television program, in 1994 and ’95. Follow Steve on Twitter @profootballboy.

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