The Patriots will take on the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. The AFC Championship is scheduled to kickoff at 3:05 P.M. ET.
The Patriots and Broncos are meeting for the second time this year. In the earlier meeting, the Broncos beat the Patriots with Osweiler, and not Manning as quarterback. The Patriots led that game by 14 points in the fourth quarter, before it all unraveled. A special team’s fumble ignited the Broncos offense and the Patriots never regained momentum.
In their November matchup, Brady threw for three touchdowns and was without receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Patriots also were without Rob Gronkowski in the final minutes after he sustained a leg injury. This time around, Brady will have all three at his disposal.
In that November matchup, the quarterback facing the Patriots was not Manning, but Brock Osweiler. While Manning adds elite experience and poise to the quarterback position, athletically he’s a downgrade to Osweiler. Against the Steelers in the Divisional Round, Manning completed 21 passes for 222 yards. The Steelers kept Manning out of the end zone, but they were unable to force a turnover. In the regular season, Manning threw nine touchdowns to seventeen interceptions. The Broncos don’t need Manning to throw touchdowns to win. In fact, they’ve been winning in spite of that. What Denver needs is for Manning to manage the game and protect the football.
The Patriots finished the season 2-4 over their last six contests and went limping into the playoffs. In the Divisional Round, they faced a Chiefs team that had won 11 straight contests. The Patriots overcame the Chiefs momentum due, in large part, to the return of Julian Edelman.
Brady targeted Edelman on 16 occasions. Edelman had 10 catches for 100 yards. Having Edelman back provides the Patriots offense with a huge boost on third downs. Against the Chiefs, the Patriots completed six of twelve first downs. Back in November, the Patriots were two of thirteen on third down conversions. In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots should have an easier time converting third downs with Edelman on the receiving end.
A player to watch in the AFC Championship for the Broncos is C.J. Anderson. Against the Steelers, Anderson rushed for 72 yards on 15 carries. Anderson scored the Broncos’ only touchdown in the game. The Patriots struggle when they face powerful runners with speed. In their November defeat of the Patriots, Anderson rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winning score in overtime. The Broncos cannot rely on Manning to win the game anymore. Their offense needs an effective running attack and a complementary Manning to read the defense and attack its weakness. If Anderson isn’t successful, then the Broncos will need Hillman or another back to step up.
A player to watch in the AFC Championship for the Patriots is James White. The Patriots don’t need to run the ball to win. But, the Patriots need to get more than what Steve Jackson is offering. Jackson had six rushes for sixteen yards. Even if the Patriots continue to use Jackson as the bruiser back, they still need to get more production from the running backs. With Edelman, Gronk, and Amendola all healthy for this game, it’s clear that the Patriots offense will run through them. White might still play an important role in the screen game and the outside run.
The Broncos play almost exclusively in man-to-man defense. White is a more viable outlet receiver than Jackson. However, White is an elusive runner and has shown glimpses of his talent in the open field. If the Patriots utilize White in the screen game, and occasionally as a runner to the outside, then the Patriots will have a better chance of keeping Denver of balance and guessing all game.
Broncos Vs Patriots AFC Championship Betting Lines
In the Brady versus Manning saga, the home team has won every playoff meeting. Brady and Manning have met seventeen times in their careers and three of those matchups have come in the AFC Championship. Manning holds the slight two to one lead. Denver has proven a particularly difficult venue for Brady. Brady’s only won twice at MileHigh in his career. But, Denver defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips is only 2-5 against Tom Brady led offenses. Some things got to give.
This game will come down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Whichever team manages to control the clock and possess the ball last will win. If Edelman and Gronkowski play the entire game, then the Patriots win.
Play: Patriots -3 @ BetOnline.ag