This weekend will feature arguably the greatest individual rivalry in the history of the National Football League. Tom Brady and his New England Patriots will head out west to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. This meeting marks the 15th time both of these NFL Great’s will have matched up and the third time these two will go face to face in the AFC Championship game. New England first defeated Indianapolis in the 2003 AFC Championship. Manning then led the Colts in 2006 to avenge their previous loss against New England as they defeated them in the Championship game.
With a combined 100,000 plus passing yards, 850 passing touchdowns, four Super Bowls and six MVP awards, it is without a question that these two quarterbacks have put themselves among some of the greatest players in the history of the league. Whenever these two legends play against each other we are always guaranteed one amazing football game, which is what makes this rivalry so great. This weekend I expect nothing other than a phenomenal football game.
While it will be a fantastic matchup between these two quarterbacks, there are other things to look forward to. For the first time in a few years the New England Patriots have found themselves a dominating running game. The tandem of LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden have poised as a problem for multiple teams throughout the season, as they have rushed for over 200 yards in back to back games, ranking 9th overall. Although the tandem of backs have all contributed greatly throughout the season, one that has stood out in particular over the past few weeks is LeGarrette Blount. In his past two games Blount has rushed for a total of 355 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is playing at a MVP type level during the most important time of the season.
Another thing the Patriots have going for them is Julian Edelman, or, as others like to call him “The Poor Man’s Wes Welker.” Over the course of the season Julian Edelman has clearly shown everyone that he is anything but that. The former college quarterback completed a fantastic regular season by catching over 100 balls. Edelman has provided Tom Brady with the comfort blanket that he has desperately needed. His consistency and productivity is one of the man reasons as to why New England is where they are right now. He makes big catch after big catch. With the Broncos losing their best graded cornerback, Chris Harris, they are definitely going to have their hands full with Edelman this Sunday.
Now let’s take a look at the Broncos. They have completely dominated pretty much every defense they have faced this year, as they have scored at least 34 points or more in every game except three during the season. Their dominance has been led by a record setting season from quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning threw for a record number in passing yards, passing touchdowns, while breaking numerous other records.
Despite having one of the greatest statistical season in the history of the league, Manning struggled big time when he played New England in Week 12. Manning had trouble finding his receivers throughout the night, posting season lows with a 52.8 completion percentage and 150 passing yards. This was easily Manning’s worse game of the season. Despite Manning’s struggles, the Broncos found themselves in the game due to one thing and one thing only; the running game or should I say, Knowshown Moreno. Moreno ran for a career high 224 yards on 37 carries.
The Patriots still have yet to figure out how to stop the run. They ranked 30th in terms of running defense in the league. New England is obviously susceptible to allowing a big game on the ground for the opposing team. One running back who has stepped up a bit for Denver as of late has been Montee Ball. Ball has seen an increase in his work-load over the past month and is expected to heavily continue to contribute this weekend.
One thing to note about Denver is the fact that their defense ranks right in the middle of the pack in terms of stopping the run. I believe this is a bit of an over-ratted stat. Most teams that they have played have found themselves in a big hole while playing Denver. They needed to get back in the game. What do they do? They pass, of course. So, while Denver is ranked 15th in stopping the run, they do face a lot less running plays than the average team. They’re up more, opposing team has to throw more, run less.
I also do not believe that Peyton Manning will have his revenge against New England this year. The Broncos offense and group of receivers are phenomenal. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker has combined for 35 touchdowns this year, while tight end Julius Thomas has been tearing it up with 12 touchdowns on the season. Yes, Manning and his group of receivers have only had one bad game all year. Yes, the plethora of weapons that Manning has is insane. However, the only game that Manning performed poor in all season was when he faced the Patriots defense. Not only did Manning play poorly against New England this season, but many seasons prior to as well. Coincidence? Maybe. But, I’m not buying it.
Bottom line, I am picking New England to win this football game. When it comes down to it, I just like the way Brady has this offense running. They are dominating the trenches and playing much more physical up front than any other team. Asides from the running game, you know Brady will end up making that one special play at some point in this game and as long as the run is going strong, Brady will have his way with the secondary. I see New England going into Denver and defeating them by a score of 34-24.
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