by Aengus Moorehead
Patriots: 13-4 SU,8-6-3 ATS
Broncos: 13-4 SU,7-7-3 ATS
When: 3:05 PM ET, Sunday, January 24, 2016
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
The New England Patriots advanced to their fifth straight AFC Championship game, joining the Oakland Raiders (1973-77) as the only NFL teams to reach that plateau. The Patriots will meet the Denver Broncos for the second time this season when they travel to the Mile-High city in the AFC Conference Championship with a chance to win a second Super Bowl in as many years.
The Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004 and a New England win would give them their ninth Super Bowl berth, breaking a tie with Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most in NFL history. Bill Belichick will coach in his 10th conference championship game to match Tom Landry for the most in history of the league.
The Patriots and Broncos have played each other in three divisional playoff games and one AFC Championship Game. The last time they played in the postseason was the 2013 AFC Championship Game, a 26-16 Denver win at Sports Authority Field. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have had many epic games against each other over the course of their careers. This week's game will be the third overall Brady-Manning game since Manning's departure from the Indianapolis Colts. Despite playing in separate divisions following the 2002 NFL division reformatting, the Patriots and the Colts played each other an astounding 17 times since 2001 overall.
With the exception of the 2011 regular season matchup - a game which Manning missed due to a neck injury - and the 2008 regular season game that Brady missed following an ACL tear, Brady and Manning have started at quarterback for their respective teams in every game dating back to Sept. 30, 2001. Sunday's game between the Patriots and the Broncos will mark the 16th time that the two future hall-of-famers have started opposite one another.
In past seasons, there was plenty of debate regarding which quarterback was better. With the 2016 Super Bowl approaching, that question has been answered, with Brady on top of his game and Manning in the twilight of his career. Because the gap between the two signal callers is so great, the Patriots are three-point road favorites - according to Bovada -in Denver.
For much of his career, Manning carried poor defensive teams deep into the playoffs. Now that Manning is playing the worst football of his career, it’s his defense that is the main reason why he has a chance to get back to the Super Bowl. The Broncos held off the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoffs, 23-16, as Manning completed 21 of 37 passes for just 222 yards and no touchdowns.
With a 27-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoffs, New England had a much easier time winning than the score might indicate. Brady threw for 302 yards and two scores, leading an offense that finally has a healthy receiving corps. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski combined to catch 17 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns, and they could have a big day in the AFC title game, even against Denver’s stingy defense.
If New England wants to walk away from Denver with a ticket to the Super Bowl, then they may need some semblance of a running game. The Broncos have the best defense in the league. They ranked first in total and passing defenses and third in rushing.
While the Broncos have the best defense in the league, Brady can still be confident in this game. After all, he dismembered Denver’s defense for 280 yards passing and three touchdowns in a 30-24 overtime loss at Mile High in Week 12. He didn’t even have Edelman in that game due to an injury.
New England could explode on offense and all. But their defense will need to show up. Peyton Manning is no longer the same quarterback who once threw 55 touchdowns in a season, an NFL record. But he’s still one tough out when given the chance. The Pats will need to keep Manning on his toes with their solid pass rush. New England finished the regular season with 49 sacks, second only to Denver in the league.
Chandler Jones leads the team with 12.5 sacks in the regular season. He’ll have plenty of help from Jabaal Sheard (eight sacks), Rob Ninkovich (6.5 sacks) and Jamie Collins (5.5 sacks) who all had their contributions in the regular season. Jones is already well in playoff mode after getting the Pats’ only sack in the postseason against Kansas City.
Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas will be there to get open as best as they could for Manning. Sanders, in particular, looked good against Pittsburgh leading the team with five catches for 85 yards. He also had a game-high 113 yards catching passes from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in Week 12 against the Patriots.
While Manning and his receiving corps will surely have their moments, the running game and defense will be the ones that could fuel a potential victory. The last time running back C.J. Anderson saw the Patriots, he burned them for a 51-yard, game-winning touchdown in overtime in Week 12. He was splendid against New England in that matchup, finishing the game with 113 yards and two scores on just 15 carries. Anderson started the playoffs on the right foot, leading the team with 72 yards and a score on 15 carries against Pittsburgh; he also scored on a two-point conversion.
A solid running game built off Anderson could eat the clock. A brilliant game plan from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could ensure that the ball remains with Denver for majority of the game. Phillips has had a splendid time with the Broncos’ defensive unit this season, leading the team to rank first in total defense (283.1 yards per game), passing defense (199.6) and third in rushing defense (83.6).
The Broncos have the complete package to defeat what could be a pass-oriented New England squad. DeMarcus Ware, Antonio Smith, Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe and Malik Johnson make up a pass rush that could get Brady uncomfortable in the pocket. The Denver pass rush finished with the most sacks in the regular season (52). Denver also has a solid secondary led by Aqib Talib, who could shutdown Edelman on man-to-man coverage.
New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos Early Odds & Betting Lines
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In their last action, Denver was a 23-16 winner at home against the Steelers. They earned a push of the -7-point spread as favorites, while the combined score (39) was profitable news for UNDER bettors.
The Patriots were a 27-20 winner in their most recent outing at home against the Chiefs. They covered the -6-point spread as favorites, while the total score (47) made winners of OVER bettors.
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New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos NFL Betting Odds & Trends
New England is 3-5-1 ATS in its last 9 games
New England is 16-4 SU in its last 20 games
The total has gone OVER in 5 of New England's last 7 games
Current Streak: won 3 straight games.
Denver is 0-3-2 ATS in its last 5 games
Denver is 13-4 SU in its last 17 games
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Denver's last 6 games
Denver has lived on the edge all season, often needing late turnovers to help dig itself out of multiple holes. Brady puts on a vintage effort against the NFL's leading defense and a late Denver rally comes up short but only by a couple of points in a thriller. Take points and Denver +3½ and the over 44½.
Aengus NFL Football Prediction and Pick: Denver +3½ at MyBookie
antonio smith - aqib talib - brock osweiler - c.j. anderson - demarcus ware - demaryius thomas - denver broncos - derek wolfe - emmanuel sanders - jamie collins