This year’s AC Championship game could not possibly hold more drama if it tried. We have a team that people continually counted out throughout this season and a team who has thrashed almost every opponent it has faced. The Patriots have lost a litany of star players this season and have seemed completely unfazed. Let’s take a look a the list: Gronk, Wilfork, Spikes, Welker, Hernandez, Kelly, just to name a few. However, Denver has had to overcome losses of their own like star CB Chris Harris. For a team like New England, who reinvents itself almost every week, to go against an offensive juggernaut like Denver is sure to create the best matchup of these playoffs.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos -4.5
New England: Who would you rather have than Tom Brady in the playoffs? Brady over the life of his career has proven to be not only the best playoff quarterback of this generation but also the most valuable player to any team in the National Football League. This season has been Brady’s most impressive season considering the weapons he’s had at his disposal. With how effective the running game was a week ago against Indianapolis most expect New England to continue using that model to control the clock and keep Manning off the field. However, when it’s winning time and throws need to be made Tom Brady has the ability, poise and the clutch factor you want in a quarterback.
Denver: We can’t sugar coat this one, all the pressure in the world is on the shoulders of #18. Peyton Manning has had the best statistical season of any quarterback in league history, and effectively made every defense in the NFL look like bad college defenses. However, all I have heard this week is the doubt that everyone had two years ago when they thought Manning couldn’t play anymore. So just because he’s playing the Patriots he’s no longer an effective quarterback? Sorry, that is just fiction. Manning since last season’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens has been playing with a chip on his shoulder and has been playing his best football. His ability to manipulate and read defenses is unparalleled in the National Football League and is the main factor that lead to his historic run in 2013.
In this category I would have to give the slight edge to the New England Patriots.In the history of Brady vs. Manning, the numbers support this argument. Manning will most likely put up better numbers, however the Pats will put Brady in the position to make a game-winning throw and TB 12 will execute the most important throws with critical efficiency.QB Edge: New England
Denver: The most impressive career turnaround of 2013 has been that of Knowshon Moreno. At the end of last season there were many who thought Moreno was completely expendable, especially after taking highly touted Montee Ball in the 2013 draft. Despite all that Moreno was truly a revelation for the Denver running game. Moreno rushed for over 220 yards in his last appearance against New England which helped him account for over 1,000 yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2013. Without the run stopping ability that Brandon Spikes gave the New England defense, look for Denver to use Moreno and Ball to help control the clock and finish drives.
New England: If there was a textbook on ‘runningback by committee’, the 2013 Patriot running game would write the story. With four versatile running backs that Coach Belichick uses to perfection the Patriots have become a football team that is highlighted by a strong run game and ball control offense. Blount, Bolden, Ridley and Vereen could at any point become the premiere back of the offense if Belichick and McDaniels see a weakness in a particular part of a defense. This makes the New England offense very unpredictable and extremely hard to game plan for. Legarrette Blount is maybe the hottest player still playing in this year’s playoffs. He completely dominated the Colts with 166 yards and 4 TDs. Look for the running game of New England to be vital to their success this weekend.
Even with how much I love Knowshon and with Ball playing better of late, I have to give the edge to the Patriots. With so many versatile backs and Blount playing dominating and confident football the Patriots have the better running attack. RB Edge: New England
Wideouts and Tightends:
New England: The Patriots passing attack is highlighted by one of the more scrappy bunches we have ever seen ascend to the AFC Championship game. Edelman, Amendola, Thompkins and Hoomanawanui are the guys that will be targeted in this weekend’s battle. Edelman has proven throughout this season that despite his size he is an effective and dangerous asset to a ball club’s passing game. Amendola, who’s battled injury problems, has had his moments and will likely serve as a critical receiver on 3rd downs. Thompkins is really a boom or bust sort of player, so who knows what he’ll provide against Denver. And when Gronk is out of commission Brady doesn’t even look at tightends in the passing game. With a key injury to Denver’s Chris Harris, one of these untouted underdog receivers could potentially become a star this weekend.
Denver: The Broncos might sport one of the best collection of receivers that we have ever seen, more importantly they are the best Peyton Manning has ever played with. A group lead by Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas encompass all the tools of a championship receiving core. They have size, speed, athleticism which gives them the ability to shred opposing defenses at any time during a game. These stars need to play big to beat the Pats.
Denver has more talent than New England in this area, plain and simple. Love the size and speed that highlight the Broncos receiving core. WR/TE Edge: Denver
Denver: The Broncos defense for the better part of the 2013 season was the the team’s achilles heel. However, over recent weeks the defense has been playing great football. Against San Diego in last week’s contest we saw the front 7 of Denver play inspired football, putting pressure on Philip Rivers and stopping what was one of the more impressive ground games in the AFC. Look for Danny Trevathan to lead Denver’s front 7 and help put them into a position to win the game.
New England: New England throughout the 2013 season have lost the core of their front 7 and by extension their entire defense. No Wilfork, no Kelly, and no Spikes. But in the traditional Belichick model its ‘next man up’. Every player that has come into the fold for the Pats has done an exceptional job replacing highly valued leaders on what has always been a strong defense. Belichick usually has Manning’s number and each time these adversaries have met the front 7 played a crucial role. Dont’a Hightower needs to have another big game this week to help lead New England to victory.
It’s always hard to pick against Bill Belichick when it comes to defense, however I really like the way Denver has been playing in the front end and I expect them to continue to put pressure on the quarterback. Tom Brady’s kryptonite throughout his playoff career has been when opposing defensives have been able to get in his face, this potentially could be a breaking point in this ball game. Front 7 Edge: Denver
Denver: The Broncos suffered an untimely loss this week when Chris Harris was found to have a Torn ACL. Losing a premiere shutdown corner like Harris is a big loss for Denver. However, with the size advantage they maintain over New England’s receivers Denver still has enough talent to play with the Pats. Champ Bailey will probably continue to play the inside corner and cover Amendola and Rodgers-Cromartie, who had an inspired game last week, will most likely cover Edelman or whoever Brady is targeting as the No.1 receiver.
New England: The secondary has been a key to New England’s success in 2013. A group lead by a litany of talented individuals like McCourty, Talib, and Dennard, the Pats back end have forced a ton of turnovers and have helped beat talented quarterbacks all season. In last week’s Divisional Round victory over Indianapolis, the Pats picked off Andrew Luck four times and should have had five. This core of talented athletes could decide the football game.
With the loss of Chris Harris in addition with how well the Patriots secondary has been playing, New England holds the edge in this category. With Talib, McCourty and Dennard New England could potentially cause problems for Manning and the Denver passing game. Secondary Edge: New England
Denver: The key player that will help lead the Broncos to a win this weekend is Julius Thomas. He holds the biggest matchup problem for the New England Patriots and needs to have a big game for Denver to win. Thomas is bigger, stronger and faster then any linebacker that the Pats have and if he continually gets targets from Manning the Pats will need to cover him with a safety. This in turn will open up the rest of the talented receivers for Denver, especially Demaryius Thomas who was blanketed by bracket coverage the entire second half of the Broncos loss to the Patriots earlier this season.
New England: The X factor player for New England throughout this year has been Julian Edelman and he’ll need to have a similar game this weekend. Edelman was the most targeted receiver on the Patriots and was top five in the league with 149 targets. He is the go to wideout for Tom Brady making him New England’s X-Factor. He will most likely be covered by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who had his best game of the season last week. Edelman vs. Rodgers-Cromartie is the bigeest man-on-man matchup of the game and could potentially decide the outcome of the AFC Championship.
Here’s a recap:
Quarterback: New England
Runningbacks: New England
Receiving Core: Denver
Front 7: Denver
Secondary: New England
X-Factors: Julian Edelman, Julius Thomas
Matchup to Watch: Julian Edelman vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Game Prediction: My heart really wants to see Peyton Manning go back to the Super Bowl, however New England looks like the stronger ball club. With a strong secondary, powerful run game, and with a passing game lead by the incomparable Tom Brady I believe the Pats will take the AFC Championship 28-26.