All AFC roads lead to the Super Bowl through Mile High in Colorado as the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots in one of the season’s two penultimate games (3.05pm ET Sunday on CBS).
Here is our AFC Championship game preview with analysis and predictions, and as always concluding with our advised betting picks.
It’s Time for Brady vs Manning XVII
Forget about Super Bowl 50, the biggest number on the horizon is 17. That’s because Sunday marks the 17th time that future Hall of Famers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (pictured) will lead their teams, head-to-head against each other. This has been one of the NFL’s highest profile rivalries over the last decade and one that is about to make history as this will be the record fifth time any two QBs have faced off in the postseason. It will also be the fourth time this matchup is occurring in the AFC Championship.
Okay, so now that the obligatory mention of that incredible rivalry is out of the way, let’s actually discuss some of the numbers that are going to impact this year’s game, the one that will determine which team is Super Bowl bound.
The careers of the two men have taken on incredibly similar trajectories with both establishing themselves as the best in a certain realm. For Manning, that dominance has come in the regular season as he has an NFL record for regular season wins, touchdowns and passing yards. Brady meanwhile, holds all of these same records, only his come in the form of most wins, touchdowns and yards in the postseason.
Manning and Brady have met four times in the playoffs with the head-to-head being at two games apiece. This is much different than the overall rivalry, of which Brady’s teams have won 11 of the remaining 13 contests. There are a lot of reasons for these lopsided numbers not the least of which has been that under Brady, New England has consistently had the better defenses and have been able to stifle Manning during the rivalry.
This year it would seem the tables have been turned. Looking at defensive metrics and overall rankings, Denver not only ranked higher than New England, but they actually finished as the top defense in the entire NFL. Denver paced the league by posting the lowest yards allowed, lowest yards per game, lowest passing yards and lowest passing yards per game. The Broncos were also third in rushing and rushing yards per game and fourth in total points allowed and points per game. Meanwhile, New England ‘s defense ranked 9th in total yards and yards per game, 17th in passing yards and yards per game, 9th in rushing yards and yards per game and 10th in points and points per game.
The history of this rivalry suggests that the team with the better defense will emerge victorious but additionally, the team that plays at home has a significant edge as in the playoffs, the home team is 4-0 in the four meetings.
New England’s Offense is better than it Has any Right to Be
There is only one member of the Patriots’ roster on offense who is a former first round pick and he wasn’t even with the team until mid-December. That man of course is not Tom Brady not Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman. No, it’s Steven Jackson who was the first round selection of the soon-to-be LA Rams back in 2004.
But somehow, someway, without the first round talent, New England ranked sixth in the league in total yards and yards per game, fifth in passing yards and yards per game and third in total points and points per game. The only area where New England did not rank top-five on offense was in the running game, the position which perhaps coincidentally enough, is the one where the first rounder is employed.
Brady himself had an MVP-caliber year and once again proved that with the right QB and right coach that a next man up philosophy can in fact work. Imagine if Brady had the weapons Manning does in the form of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders? Imagine if he had CJ Anderson at running back and not a trio of injured stars who were in and out of the lineup all year?
Brady likely could have led the Patriots to that undefeated season that was lost against the Manning-less Broncos if he had that kind of offense, but even without it, he still managed to make the Patriots one of the NFL’s best teams, no doubt a testament to his own ability as signal caller.
Denver Right to Rely on Run Game against New England
Let’s face it, the age of Peyton Manning is coming to an end. While Brady was having one of the best years of his career, Manning was injured and when he came back, looked old for the first time in his career. Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Manning’s favorite receiver was the ground as a lot of his passes failed to have zip on them and fell limp in a very un-Peyton like fashion.
Now, to be fair, his receivers did drop seven balls, but Manning’s arm looked weak and entering into a matchup with Brady and the Patriots, that’s not something you want to see as a Patriots fan.
For that reason, look to Anderson to really take over the game on Sunday. With Osweiler still under center, Anderson led the Broncos to 179 yards on the ground the last time these two teams matched up. Less than a month ago, Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for over 200 yards.
The running game is going to be vital to take some pressure off of Manning and really open up the passing game in a way it can be most effective. Doing so is really Denver’s best and perhaps only chance to win.
New England Patriots vs Denver Broncos Betting Picks
Some call it the Manning curse noting that Brady is 20-4 in the playoffs against quarterbacks not named Manning and just 2-4 against those who are (Peyton and Eli). Is it possible, especially with defense on his side that Peyton and the so-called Manning curse continue to haunt Brady in this way?
As for my betting picks prediction, the numbers seem to favor Manning and the Broncos but if we were to just look at this season, I’d have to bet on Brady and the Pats.
- New England is a -3 point road favorite with the sportsbooks and this feels like a safe bet. The Patriots looked unbeatable at one point this year and the Broncos well, just snuck by the Steelers last week. Take New England to cover the -3pts spread @ best betting odds of -109 with BetOnline Sportsbook. It is -110 with 5Dimes and Bovada are even more keen on their chances with a less attractive -3.5pts @ -115 odds.
- As for the total game points, my prediction is it will top 44.5pts. So bet that over 44.5 points pick @ -110 odds with BetOnline or 5Dimes. Bovada goes -115.
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.