AFC Championship Preview: Patriots vs. Broncos

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Time: 2:05 EST

Network: CBS

Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado

Line: New England (-3.5)

The Denver Broncos will host the New England Patriots this Sunday for a chance to go to Super Bowl 50. The Patriots made it to this game by convincingly beating a hot Kansas City Chiefs team, while the Broncos got here by escaping a close game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although the two teams each play a different style of football, they come into this game evenly matched.

The Patriots win on offense by riding their star quarterback, Tom Brady. Brady gets rid of the football quickly to his playmakers in the passing game. Gronkowski, Edelman, and Amendola are the main weapons on the Patriots’ offense. The running game, however, is basically not a factor. The last time these two teams met, the Patriots had no running game at all. That for sure will be a factor in Denver’s game plan versus New England. On defense, the Patriots are pretty solid. There is no glaring weakness in this unit. The pass rush can cause opposing QB’s problems, while the run defense is normally pretty stout. The Patriots’ secondary normally plays mistake free football, making it hard to execute big plays on them. I expect New England’s corners to play tight coverage on the Broncos receivers, forcing Manning to make tough throws.

The Broncos offense works almost the exact opposite than the Patriots do. Peyton Manning plays the role of a game manager, while the run game is the focal point. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson both head the running attack as the two split carries. Denver is committed to the run, even when it is not having much success. Generally, Gary Kubiak only asks Manning to throw the ball when it is necessary. The receivers are still led by Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, and although they have taken a backseat in the offense this season, the unit still cannot be forgotten about. The public generally views Manning as the main weakness on the Broncos offense, but their true liability is the offensive line. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots attack Denver’s big guys upfront. Defensively, the Broncos are the best in the league. The unit got off to a shaky start against Pittsburg, but it quickly buckled down, allowing only 16 points to one of the leagues’ best offenses. The concern for Denver’s defense against New England is the shoulder injury to Chris Harris. The initial report is that Harris will be a game time decision. I expect Harris to play, but if he is unable to cover Edelman, the Broncos could be in for a long day.

There is so much riding on this game. Obviously, the winner goes to San Francisco. It is also the seventeenth match up between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and it is the fourth time they have met for an AFC Title. But for Manning, this could be his last game in Denver, and the last game of his career. The Broncos also must be anxious to get back to the Super Bowl and put on a better performance after their last appearance. The Patriots, however, have a chance to finally exorcise their demons here in Denver. Even back to New England’s dominance in the early Brady and Bellichick era, the Patriots have struggled to win in the Mile High City. 

There is no doubt that these two teams are the best in the AFC. Denver will keep this game close because of their defense, but I feel like Edelman will be the difference maker. Gronk will make his plays, but I expect him to be covered heavily by the Broncos’ secondary. The Broncos will be forced to cover Edelman in one on one situations, and if Chris Harris isn’t 100%, the wide receiver will give Denver fits. The Broncos will also have to be perfect on offense. One turnover could hurt Denver immensely. I also expect the Patriots to focus on the run, forcing Manning to beat New England’s defense with his arm. I just don’t think Manning is capable of doing that at this point in his career. Denver is a clutch team that plays with a never quit mentality, but New England is a machine that will exploit any teams weaknesses. The game will be another thriller, but in the end, the Patriots will be the team that moves on to the Super Bowl.

Prediction: New England 23-20 

Feature image courtesy of http://articles.latimes.com

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