Perhaps one of the greatest rivalries in the history of professional sports, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning is always must see television. This year the two future Hall of Famers will meet in a week nine game in Foxboro. For some reason Peyton Manning can be outstanding for the majority of the season, but historically he has always struggled against the Patriots. With that being said, I think the Broncos will get the better of Bill Belichick’s bunch in 2014.
Although some might not consider this a bold prediction, considering Manning’s 5-10 all time record against Brady, it’s anything but a safe bet. Expect another high scoring, action packed game. Then again, with Manning’s Broncos and Brady’s Patriots it’s hard to expect anything less.
There was a stretch of six games spanning form 2001-2005 when Manning didn’t register a single win against Brady’s Pats. Since then, Manning has bested Brady five times, twice in the post season. Last year the Broncos had two completely different performances against New England. In the first meeting, the Broncos took an early lead, only to see that lead vanish when New England scored 28 unanswered. The Broncos would end up losing that game in overtime.
The second time the teams met was an entirely different story.
After the debacle in Foxboro, Denver was able to systematically pull apart the New England defense in the AFC Championship game. “Mr. Omaha,” adapted after the week 12 loss, and looked astronomically better in his second game against the Patriots defense.
Manning looked comfortable in the pocket, as he had a plethora of time to find his receivers. The Broncos would end up winning the game 26-16, though they led 23-3 in the fourth quarter. Manning went 32/43 with 400 passing yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Since that game, the Broncos have only gotten more lethal on offense.
Off Season Changes
Denver let Eric Decker leave the Mile High City in favor of the Big Apple. To supplement the loss of Decker, the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders away from Pittsburgh. They also drafted wide receiver Cody Latimer, and cornerback Bradley Roby. Champ Bailey and Knowshon Moreno also left town, but the Broncos brought in a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and they have all the faith in the world in second year back Monte Ball. Roby adds youth and depth to the secondary, while Latimer gives Manning another toy to play with.
New England’s changes come mostly on the defensive side of the ball. They decided to part ways with feisty cornerback Aqib Talib in the off season, as well as linebacker Brandon Spikes. They then proceeded to add Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis to make their defense as formidable a unit as it’s been in years. The only downside for New England is that Talib decided to sign with the opposing Broncos.
The Patriots felt comfortable letting Spikes go mainly due to the emergence and potential of Jamie Collins. Collins has been categorized as being a cornerback trapped in a 250 pound body due to his athleticism. The Patriots also added Brandon LaFell in an attempt to bolster the wide receiving group. Collins is an upgrade from Spikes.
Why Denver Has the Edge
1. Additions/Getting Healthy
While the Patriots have improved drastically in an effort to contend with the Broncos, Denver’s improvements around the board trump New England’s.
The addition of Emmanuel Sanders more than fills the void left by the departing Decker. He’s faster, more athletic and adds another dimension to the already stout offense. Tackle Ryan Clady also returns after missing almost all of the 2013 season due to Lisfranc injury. One of the few ways to beat Manning is to pressure him, and the Patriots don’t have any outstanding pass rushers. Add in the fact that Manning was only sacked a total of 18 times last year without Clady, and it’s hard not to give the advantage to Denver.
DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and ex-Patriot Aqib Talib have all come to Denver as well. Von Miller is a scary enough pass rusher without a phenomenal talent like Ware to help him. The dyad will implement a whole lot of havoc.
Safety T.J. Ward will help solidify a secondary unit that was deplorable last year. One of the most underrated players in the NFL, Ward is a huge upgrade for Denver. Denver’s best coverage linebacker Danny Trevathan recently broke his foot, but he will be back in plenty of time for Denver’s clash with New England.
The new look Patriots secondary is good, but I still don’t think they have the upper hand against Denver’s passing attack. Welker, Thomas, Thomas, Latimer and Sanders will give the Patriots defense a lot of headaches. It’s been reported that Darrelle Revis was getting routinely beat by Jeremy Maclin during the Eagles joint practice with New England. Maclin is coming off of ACL surgery, so that’s not a great sign for the Patriots.
2. Aqib Talib
The biggest X factor of this week nine matchup will be cornerback Aqib Talib. Having just come from New England, Talib practiced against Brady and the offense for over a year. He knows the system, and he knows it well. While health concerns are always a factor for Talib, even if he’s not on the field he will surely serve a role as another defensive coordinator. Talib won’t only be effective because of his knowledge of the Patriots system either.
Last year Talib was the only defensive back to effectively shut down Saints all-world tight end Jimmy Graham. The aggressive corner played Graham tight and was effective. Oh, and Talib held Graham to no receptions. The game against New England was the only time all year Graham didn’t record a single reception. The reason why this is important and relevant is because Talib, if healthy, will likely be tasked with guarding New England’s Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is a player that’s similar to Graham, so one would expect Talib to achieve similar success against Gronk.
If the Broncos can shut down Gronkowski, the Patriots offense is limited at best. In the week 12 game, Gronk caught seven balls for 90 yards and a touchdown. Brady through for 344 yards and three touchdowns. When Gronk was out of the lineup for the AFC Championship game, Brady threw for 277 yards and one interception.
Even if Gronkowski isn’t registering yards in the stat sheet he’s commanding special attention from a defense. When Brady doesn’t have Gronkowski, his options are Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Both teams have equal run games, so that likely won’t be a huge deciding factor.
The Broncos have all the tools to stop Brady and New England’s offense. The improvements that were made in the off season will ultimately decide the outcome of week nine’s game.
Peyton Manning is still the quarterback in Denver, and his offense has gotten better from last year’s record breaking season. I obviously expect it to be a close game, although Denver winning by two possessions is entirely feasible. With this likely being one of the last times we’ll see this storied rivalry, expect Manning to edge out Brady. At least in their regular season matchup.