Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: AFC Championship Game. There’s nothing else that has to be said.
This is the 15th time that these two legendary quarterbacks will square off against each other, and it could be the last. Brady has gotten the better of Manning in his career, winning 10 of the 14 match-ups, including a current 3-game winning streak. These two teams met in week 12, and it was one crazy game. The Broncos got off to a 24-0 half-time lead, then the Patriots scored 31 straight unanswered points to take a 31-24 lead, and then Peyton battled back to tie the game at 31 to send the game to over-time. That game was decided on a fluke fumble off a punt that struck a Broncos player. The Patriots recovered and Stephen Gotskowski kicked the game-winning field goal. In that game, New England’s secondary held Manning to just 150 yards passing and a 52 percent completion percentage which was easily his worst game of the season. If any coach can say they own Peyton Manning, it’s Bill Belichick who’s beaten Manning more than twice as many times as any other coach ever:
The Patriots offense appears to have made the adjustment of not having Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez in the lineup. Instead of relying on the arm of Tom Brady, the Pats rushing attack has emerged as a major weapon. Against the Colts last week, the Patriots ran 46 running plays, and 25 passing plays. A big reason for that is the play of LaGerrette Blount who in the last 2 games has ran for a combined 355 yards, 6 touchdowns, and an other-worldly 7.39 yards per carry average.
This has created major headaches for opposing defenses who now not only have to worry about getting pressure on Tom Brady, but also stopping the run which is a dimension the the Patriots simply haven’t had in years. The Broncos though have the NFL’s 5th worst pass defense and just lost cornerback Chris Harris for the season. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows that if Denver chooses to take Blount out of the game, he has Tom Brady, and if Denver takes Brady out of the game, he has Blount. The big key for the Patriots offense will be converting in the red-zone. If Brady has to settle for field goals, the Broncos will be in excellent shape to win the game. On an intriguing note, Tom Brady’s road playoff statistics aren’t that impressive. He’s thrown the same number of touchdowns and interceptions, 6 of each, in games played outside of Foxborough, Massachusetts.
In the first meeting of the season between these two teams, Bill Belichick forced the Broncos to run the ball, and they did. Knowshon Moreno ran the ball 37 times for 224 yards and a 6.1 yards per carry average. Peyton Manning took what the Patriots defense was giving him, but if the Broncos are going to win this game, it’s going to have to be on the arm of Peyton. Julius Thomas, who didn’t play in the first meeting, will play. Wes Welker was coming off a concussion the last time, and he’s in much better physical condition this time around. Manning had the greatest statistical season of any quarterback in NFL history. Those stats will mean nothing if he doesn’t beat Tom Brady and the Pats in this one.
Broncos – The Patriots inability to score touchdowns in the red-zone is why the edge goes to Denver.
If there’s one thing the Denver Broncos defense can do, it has the ability to stop the run. During the regular season, Denver had the NFL’s 8th best rush defense. That’s a far cry from the Colts who had the NFL’s 6th worst rush defense.
In the first meeting between these teams, the Broncos D held the Patriots running backs to just 3.7 yards per carry, even though LaGerrette Blount carried the ball only 2 times. Still, it’s highly unlikely the Patriots run the ball as effectively as they did in their two previous games against the Bills and Colts. The area the Broncos D struggles in is the passing game. What the Denver defense is going to have to do is win the battle off the line of scrimmage with the Patriots receivers and find a way to make Tom Brady uncomfortable, even without Von Miller. If Brady has time, he will beat you.
Since losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo for the season, the Patriots rush defense has fallen apart. New England finished the season with the 3rd worst rush defense, and in week 12 against Denver, Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards. That can’t happen in this game especially since the weather won’t be a factor like it was in the first meeting. Still, expect defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to force the Broncos to run the ball. The problem with that is Denver is much healthier offensively this time around and it’s going to be crucial Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, and the rest of the Patriots secondary knock the Broncos receivers off their routes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long day for this group.
Patriots – The Broncos will have a tough time generating a pass rush without Von Miller and losing Chris Harris for the season is huge. The Patriots defense is getting healthier at this stage.
Kicker: Stephen Gotskowski vs. Matt Prater
Punter: Ryan Allen vs. Britton Colquitt
Return Man: Julian Edelman vs. Trindon Holliday
Matt Prater and Stephen Gotskowski both had outstanding seasons for their respective teams. Prater missed just one kick all season, before missing from 47-yards last week, and Stephen Gotskowski made 38 of his 41 attempts.
In the punting game, Ryan Allen and Britton Colquitt have similar leg power, accuracy though is another story. Allen was tied for the league lead with 12 touchbacks, while Colquitt was tied for 4th with just 3.
Trindon Holliday is as dangerous a return man as there is in the NFL, and Julian Edelman isn’t too shabby either. Edelman holds the NFL record for punt return average.
Broncos – Field position could be an underrated part of this game, and Patriots punter Ryan Allen has struggled keeping his punts out of the end-zone.
I believe this game comes down to red-zone offense, and the Patriots struggle mightily in that area. When the Broncos get in the red-zone they score touchdowns which is why I’m taking Peyton Manning to win this game and advance to this 3rd Super Bowl.
Broncos 35 Patriots 28