Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship Preview

Hey everyone! Did you know that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have squared off head-to-head 17 times in their careers? You may or may not have heard of this all week, but it’s kind of a big deal! In all seriousness, it’s another chapter between the two unquestioned greatest quarterbacks of this generation. In my eyes, this is probably the last one, too. Or, at least it will be the last one of this significance.

I’ve heard different media outlets talk all week long. I’ve heard about how Tom Brady is 0-2 in Denver in his playoff career. Or how Peyton Manning has been the victor each of the last two times they’ve met up in the AFC Championship. I’ve seen the trash talk between the two squads, as the rest of you have too (and as Sean wrote about yesterday). Finally, I’ve seen the previous meeting; everyone knows how the first meeting between the two teams went down earlier this season.

Read my lips (or in this case, just my words)- I am not intimidated of a trip to Denver. I’m not now. I won’t be Sunday. I haven’t been all year long.

I’m not interested in any of the previous things I’ve listed except for the last one- the earlier meeting between these two teams. Some things to consider about things that will have changed from the first meeting at the Mile High Stadium:

  • Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were both out of that game. Rob Gronkowski was injured later in the game, and thus, the team was even more shorthanded down the stretch. All three men are back in uniform, and all three men are pissed off about that loss that kicked off the Patriots’ struggles over the last month.
  • Denver is now dealing with injuries of their own. This time, it’s #2 cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who for all intents and purposes, would be a #1 on most other teams. While it’s no secret that his shoulder seems to be destroyed, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s out there tomorrow afternoon. But can he keep up with Amendola, or Edelman, or even Brandon LaFell? That remains to be seen. That’s not to say New England’s defense won’t be missing faces too- Jerod Mayo has already been ruled out. That’s obviously incomparable though, since Harris Jr. means more to Denver’s D than Mayo does to New England’s. And while Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are both ailing too, we’ve all seen them play hurt, and we can all agree that their drop-off isn’t that great. They’re gamers, they’re winners, and they’re tough.
  • The quarterback of that game was Brock Osweiler, who, while he was a first-time starter, was at full health. Manning will be back under center, and while he hasn’t lost Denver either of the two games he’s seen significant action in (relief appearance against the Chargers, start against the Steelers last round), he hasn’t been the cause of the Broncos’ wins. He’s managed the game. He didn’t turn the ball over against two very, very bad defenses. The Patriots’ defense is the best he’s seen since before he got hurt. He can, and I believe will, struggle to get the ball outside the numbers to Emmanuel Sanders and Demariyus Thomas.
  • There was a blizzard the last two times that these two played. Why do I bring that up? One of two things happens:
    • There’s another blizzard (which, as I write this at 12:21 on Friday afternoon, snow and freezing rain are in the forecast), which spells more trouble for Peyton Manning, who has never been able to play in inclement weather, than Tom Brady, who hung 24 on this ‘untouchable’ Denver defense.
    • Or there isn’t one, which makes Brady’s job just that much easier. Sure, it makes Manning’s job easier too, I guess. But this is still the playoffs. It’s still out of his comfort zone.
  • Bill Belichick is the head coach of the Patriots. Bill Belichick doesn’t lose to teams twice in one season. It’s not in his blood.

I think that the Patriots win this game. Actually, a part of me is happy that they drew Denver and not Pittsburgh, who I perceive to be more of a Patriot-killing team. I’d be even more confident if this game was in Foxborough, a place Broncos players are afraid of and historically have been afraid of. One’s fear of a team doesn’t just melt away with a home game. I think the Denver Broncos are terrified of the Patriots. That’s why they’ve been talking trash, that’s why they’re calling out the Patriots’ best players. It’s a sad attempt to shake the Patriots mentally, which rarely, if ever, happens.

I think that stopping the Broncos’ offense is as simple as stacking the box. This team needs a running game in order to move the ball. If Matt Patricia can figure out a way to cut off that part of Denver’s attack, he’ll have done Josh McDaniels a great service. I think McDaniels needs about 24-27 points in order to win this game. And as good as Denver’s defense is, since their December 13th matchup agains the Oakland Raiders, all games have been decided by one score, whether they’ve won or lost. The most the offense has scored in those games is 27 points at Pittsburgh against an average-at-best defense.

I think the Patriots are better. I think they’ve got more talent. I think they’ve got more of a winning pedigree. And I think Denver has no balls. None. That’s the difference. Give me the Patriots, 27-17.


Cover photo courtesy of CBS Sports.


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