NFL AFC Conference Championship Sunday – Jan. 19th, 2014
Somehow we all thought it would end up this way. It is Manning vs. Brady, once again, on the biggest stage. While this game means a Super Bowl trip for both teams, one has to think the pressure is more on Manning on the Broncos. At 37, this may be his last chance to get another Super Bowl ring, especially with rumors of retirement in the coming offseason.
The Broncos and Patriots were the no. 1 and no. 2 seeds, respectively, in the AFC. Both received a first round bye, but the Broncos got home field advantage. They played each other once this season in a thrilling game at Foxboro on Nov. 24th. Denver was up 24-0 at halftime, but New England rallied to win the game 34-31 in overtime.
The Broncos hosted San Diego last week in a game they dominated for much of the afternoon but became close in the final minutes. Peyton Manning did convert a critical 3rd and 17 to give the Broncos a first down at midfield. From there, they continued to move the ball and were able to run out the clock for a 24-17 victory.
Offensively, Denver looked strong as usual, especially with the return of Wes Welker. They did not post the eye-popping numbers we have been spoiled with this season, but let’s remember the Chargers defense was one of the best units for the latter third of the season. Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos’ workhorse back for much of the year posted a career-high 224 rushing yards in November’s loss. He ran for 82 yards and a touchdown last week, and should find plenty of room against a Patriots rush defense that has been terrible against the run since season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerrod Mayo.
Denver suffered a tremendous loss defensively last week. Their secondary lost perhaps a top ten cornerback in the league, Chris Harris. He tore his ACL in last week’s win against San Diego. This will force Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie into the primary cornerback role with Quentin Jammer likely lining up outside and Champ Bailey taking the slot. The unit as a whole was strong Sunday but showed fatigue late in the contest, especially in downfield coverage.
New England dominated in a big way against Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium, but it was not through Tom Brady’s aerial attack. Instead, the Patriots went to the ground game. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the 43-22 win against the Colts.
Brady’s offensive unit has been decimated by injury in recent years, but he has gotten a special year out of wide receiver Julian Edelman. He led New England in receiving yards this season with 1,056 yards.
The Patriots defense has been suspect against the run mostly all season, and while they have been better against the pass, the unit has struggled as a whole. Aqib Talib did an admirable job on T.Y. Hilton last week, but is still playing with injury and has some rough games down the stretch.
The line opened with the Patriots as -6 favorites, moved to -4 and is now back at -5 and -5.5 at most books. The total opened at 54.5 and has moved at least a full point to 55.5.
This game has moved around quite a bit, but I think as long as it stays under a touchdown that Denver will be my play for a variety of reasons.
While Tom Brady has been nearly perfect in the postseason, his cast of offensive skill players this time may be his worst ever. Edelman has had a breakout season, but he is the only truly reliable option that Brady has in the passing game. The Broncos secondary is weakened with the loss of Harris, but this offense can’t compete with Denver’s offensive firepower if this game turns into a shootout.
That is the true issue. While Denver’s defensive shortcomings have been well documented, the Patriots issues have been much worse. They have been a punching bag for teams late in the season this year, giving up 27 points or more to subpar offenses like Houston and Cleveland.
With all his weapons fully healthy, including former Patriot wide receiver Wes Welker, Manning should have no issues carving up this subpar unit. Facing a poor pass rush, he should have plenty of time to throw, which spells doom for New England. The Patriots front seven has also heavily struggled against the run and the combo of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball have been a force in nearly every game this season.
I would not be shocked to see a Broncos blowout in this game, but I think at least a double-digit victory is on the cards for Manning and the Broncos.
I’m going for the Broncos -5.5 available at www.bovada.lv the #1 sportsbook for all American sports.