Well, here we are again: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. There’s a chance that this is the last time we see these two faceoff, so let’s try to enjoy it. That being said, this game isn’t just about the quarterbacks; it’s about the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots playing with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Let’s take a closer look at the AFC Championship Game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Both teams had a great regular season, won their division, and ended up with a first round bye in the playoffs. Last week, the Broncos held off a feisty but overmatched San Diego team, while the Patriots withstood a good effort from Andrew Luck and the Colts before ultimately winning by a sizeable margin.
NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE VS. DENVER DEFENSE
The Patriots have made a surprising transition to a run-based offense that they’re hoping will take them to the Super Bowl. Last week LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley combined for 48 carries while Brady threw the ball just 25 times. Blount has become a near unstoppable force, running for 189 yards in the regular season finale against Buffalo and 166 yards against the Colts last week, and scoring eight touchdowns over the last three games. Even with all the injuries to their secondary, the biggest threat to the Broncos is New England controlling the ball and the clock with their ground game and keeping Manning off the field. Denver has to find a way to stop the run at all costs, so they can put the Patriots in passing situations and give their pass rush a chance to get in Brady’s face. If New England has success running the ball, not only will it keep the Denver offense on the sidelines, but it will also set up play-action for Brady, where he can be deadly, especially against a Denver secondary that could be vulnerable without a steady pass rush.
DENVER OFFENSE VS. NEW ENGLAND DEFENSE
Despite a good collection of defensive talent, the Patriots have rarely shut teams down this season, and they certainly haven’t faced a dangerous set of skill players like this since they played Denver earlier this season, except this time they won’t the benefit of strong Foxboro winds deterring Manning from throwing the ball all over the field. The biggest area of concern for New England could be their rush defense, which was one of the worst in the NFL this year. Manning and his receivers get most of the credit, but the Broncos generally have a good balance on offense and have gotten steady production from Knowshon Moreno all season, as well as meaningful contributions late in the season from rookie Montee Ball. If New England can’t slow down Denver’s running game, the Broncos will stay ahead of the chains, putting Manning and his receivers in advantageous positions to challenge the New England secondary down the field. The Patriots will have to find a way to get the Broncos in long-yardage situations so that their pass rush can get after Manning, although the Denver offensive line has done a great job all season of keeping Manning on his feet, and as long as Manning is on the field and on his feet, it’s a safe bet that the Broncos are going to be able to move the ball and score points.
Pay no attention to the first meeting between these two teams; it was such an odd game played in unusual weather conditions, and if not for a botched punt return by the Broncos in overtime the game likely would have ended in a tie, so these two teams match up fairly evenly with one another. At least for now, the forecast in Denver calls for clear skies and fair temperatures, which is a sign that the Football Gods are smiling upon Manning and the Broncos. Brady will get his and both teams will score a lot points, but this game is Denver’s to lose. Denver 38, New England 24.