Last updated December 22nd, 2013
Coming off of a controversial loss against the Carolina Panthers, the (7-3) New England Patriots return home to face the (9-1) Denver Broncos (Sunday, 8:30pm ET), in what could be a playoff preview. The rivalry is set and with the top level offenses on display, this should be a game for the ages.
Over the course of his career, Peyton Manning (pictured below) has done everything. He has a stack of MVP trophies, a Super Bowl win and a handful of NFL records with the potential for more. However, Manning’s Indianapolis Colts might have a few more rings if not for Tom Brady and his New England Patriots. In fact, if there has been one criticism why Manning is not the best QB in the game, it is because of Brady’s dominance when the two have gone head-to-head.
Since 2001, the two best quarterbacks in the game, Brady and Manning have faced each other a record 13 times. Brady holds the head-to-head advantage 9-4 in games that have been competitive and must-see TV.
Every time Brady v Manning rolls around, it is an event. We are talking about two of the best of all time, two guys who couldn’t be more different. Manning was and is the golden boy, literally born into football genes and born to be a champion. He was a top high school phenom and #1 overall pick out of college. Brady meanwhile, was picked 198 players later in his draft, as he was just a walk-on at the University of Michigan.
But since entering the NFL, Brady and Manning have rode the same path to success, their career stats nearly mirroring each other. Both are incredibly talented and have had the benefit of great role players behind them, including Wes Welker, whose contributions add a new and exciting chapter to Sunday night’s game.
From Brady to Manning: The Wes Welker Story
For six years, Wes Welker was the go-to receiver for Brady and the Patriots. From the slot, the smart and speedy Welker, had a knack for finding yards after catch and for getting open at just the right time. In his six full seasons with the Patriots, Welker caught 37 of Brady’s 177 TDs and was targeted 925 times. Simply put, Welker was Brady’s most reliable receiver.
But in 2013, Welker finds himself catching passes from Manning in a partnership that has been beneficial for both parties. Manning quickly connected with Welker and has already hit the 10-year veteran nine times for endzone scores. After just 10 games, this is tied for Welker’s career high, set in 2011. In only three games this season has Welker failed to catch a touchdown pass and in only three has he recorded less than 50 yards.
Against the Patriots on Sunday, Welker is questionable to play. He sustained a concussion in the Bronco’s week 11 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. He has since been cleared to play but his status will be important to watch all day Sunday.
The impact Welker has goes beyond just his catches. The Patriots are no doubt going to plan around what their former standout WR can do. To their advantage, the team does know Welker’s strengths, weaknesses and the routes he is more effective at running. There is a difference however from knowing these weaknesses and actually being able to stop him. Come Sunday, New England will get that chance and if they don’t deliver, it will likely end in a Denver win.
Defense Wins Championships
While the dueling quarterbacks will of course be the headline news, the real story of this game could come down to the defenses.
New England’s defense is their best for several years but even then, it is just average. The Patriots are allowing 229.2 passing yards a game, which ranks 12th in the league and 125.7 rushing yards, which is just 27th in the league. Against the Broncos, easily the league’s best offense (average of 350.4 passing yards a game), this defense is really going to be put to the test.
Denver’s defense meanwhile is the opposite of the Patriots. The Broncos are much better than New England in defending the run (92.7 rushing yards, fourth in NFL). Against the pass however, the Broncos are one of the worst teams in the NFL (28th, 279.1 yards a game).
As it turns out, this actually benefits both teams. Denver will be putting that fourth best run defense against New England’s 9th best running game. The Patriots will have their 12th best pass defense on the line against the Broncos’ league best pass offense. In reverse, Denver is just the 20th best team in running the football, which they will be putting against the 27th best team in defending the run. For New England, it is their 16th best passing game that goes up against Denver’s 28th best passing defense. It is also worth saying that with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski back healthy, Brady and the pass offense has only gotten better.
Broncos at Patriots Betting Picks
As of Saturday, the sportsbooks had Denver as just two point favorites, one of their smallest margins of being favored this season. Of course, this is for good reason. The Patriots are a good team and bring nothing but quality football to the field. Denver will still emerge victorious, but on the road in Foxborough, this will be no easy task. And considering the way the way the Patriots lost last week, a high level performance in this game will be of paramount importance.
- Take the one-loss Broncos -2pts to cover the spread at odds of -110 with Bovada Sportsbook (it is currently -2.5pts with Betonline). Expect a tight but entertaining win.
- Also, with two pass first quarterbacks on the field, expect the total to top the mark of 53 points @ -110 with BetOnline (it is 54pts with Bovada).
- If you are not from the USA then place these NFL bets with Bet365 Online Bookmaker, a great firm but one that can not accept Americans.
RESULT UPDATE: Patriots Won 34-31 (31-31 before overtime).
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.