This is the game the commissioner’s office were hoping for. The New England Patriots will be traveling to the Denver Broncos in a duel that is a must-see. There will be no bigger and more watched football game, the Super Bowl excluded, than this (3pm ET, Sunday on CBS).
Make no mistake, the Patriots and Broncos do not have a rivalry. There is no history there, no record of one team dominating the other. However, one of the NFL’s best rivalries will be on display Sunday as Tom Brady (pictured) and Peyton Manning go head to head for the 15th time in their storied careers.
Brady and Manning, who no doubt are two of the best ever to play the position, have been dueling each other since Brady’s first full season in the NFL in 2001. The two met twice that year with Brady’s Patriots, the far superior team, taking both matches by over 50 points. It wasn’t until the seventh head-to-head that Manning finally won one.
Brady leads the rivalry 10 wins to four. The Patriots have won each of the last three as well as two of the three games that took place in the playoffs. But like I mentioned, Brady had the advantage of the better team for most of the matchups. That however, is no longer the case.
Manning’s Broncos finished the 2013 season as one of the best offensive units in history. Four receivers recorded over 1,000 yards, as well as the starting running back. Manning also set the record for most TDs in a single-season and most passing yards in a single-season. His number one ranked offense averaged 37.9 points a game and entering the postseason were the odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Brady’s team on the other hand was not expected to advance very far in the playoffs. Yes, this is a Patriots team that has played in each of the last two AFC Championships but it is also a team that had players go down like flies this year.
New England’s rookie-dominated team shocked many but just went to show how good Brady is. Without the benefit of weapons such as those Manning has, the Patriots QB was still able to lead his team to success.
Statistically, Manning has the better numbers this season but over the course of the rivalry, Brady has been the better QB. He comes to play against Peyton and has been almost perfect in most of the matchups. Manning surprisingly has been a bit of a turnover machine in the rivalry games.
So while these two QBs will get all of the attention leading up to the game, the matchup to watch is really going to be between the two defenses. It is unlikely either one will be able to stop the other completely but if one of the defenses can stall drives and cause turnovers (edge New England), that will be the team that comes away victorious.
Key to the Game: Running Backs Rule
During the famed Brady-Manning rivalry, there has been one thing other than the QBs that has stood out and that is the running game. Once again, this element seems like it will determine which team goes to the Super Bowl and which one goes home.
In the last five matchups between the Patriots and the Broncos/Colts, Brady has had the advantage of a better running game. His running backs have on average collected 30+ yards on the ground more than Manning’s. That number might not seem like a lot but when you look at the individual numbers, some of the close games have been decided because of the Patriots’ more established running game. The same can’t necessarily be said for 2013-14.
- Knowshon Moreno: 241 ATT, 1,038 YDS, 10 TD
- Legarrette Blount: 153 ATT, 772 YDS, 7 TD
Looking at the numbers, Moreno had the better season. However, Blount’s numbers have been put up as mainly a backup running back. If you were to look at yards per carry, Blount’s 5.0 is better than Moreno’s 4.3. Blount has been one of the best running backs in all of the NFL the past two weeks and it is worth noting that these are the only two times this season he has recorded over 20 carries.
Over the past two games, Blount has averaged over 7.3 yards on the ground, collected over 350 yards on the ground and scored six touchdowns. He has the hot hand and the Patriots have been wise to ride him to success.
So while Moreno’s regular season numbers are technically better it does look like the Patriots once again have the edge in the running game. With two technically superior QBs, it really could come down to which team has a better day on the ground.
By The Numbers
- Patriots Defense: 10th in points allowed (21.1), 26th in yards (373.1), 18th in pass defense (239), 30th in rush defense (134.1)
- Patriots Offense: 3rd in points (27.8), 7th in yards (384.5), 10th in pass yards (255.4), 9th in rush yards (129.1)
- Broncos Defense: 22nd in points allowed (24.9), 19th in yards (356), 27th in pass defense (254.4), 8th in rush defense (101.6)
- Broncos Offense: 1st in points (37.9), 1st in yards (457.3), 1st in pass yards (340.2), 15th in rush yards (117.1)
A quick analysis of the numbers shows that the Broncos have the far superior passing offense. The Patriots however have the better running game and overall defense. Denver does have the better rushing defense though.
Patriots vs Broncos AFC Championship Betting Picks Advice
The Patriots are five point underdogs, which some suggest is too low. Manning’s Broncos are expected to win this one easily. However if the history shows anything it’s that Brady dominates his rival.
For all of the reasons why the Patriots were the better team in the past, most of those remain. Manning does have the weapons and has them in bulk but if Brady’s offense can continue to excel with sustained drives and clock management, there is no reason not to expect Brady won’t be playing for yet another Super Bowl.
- Take the Patriots +5.5pts @ odds of -110 with BetOnline Sportsbook. It is +4pts for odds of +120 with Bovada.
- Take the over 56 total points for the game at -110 with Bovada. It is over 56.5pts for the same terms with BetOnline.
- If you do not reside in the USA then place these NFL wagers with Bet365 Bookmaker. This AFC Championship game will no doubt be a shootout and hopefully, one for the ages.
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.