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NFL: AFC Championship Preview
Posted By Shawn Ferris On January 18, 2014 @ 11:17 AM In NFL | No Comments
This will be the 15th meeting of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Brady hold a sizable advantage with a 10-4 record, including a 24-point comeback against Peyton and the Broncos in Foxboro on November 24th. Brady has the higher points per game, completion percentage, quarterback rating, and TD/INT ratio in those match ups as well.
Sunday’s game in Denver will mark the fourth time they’ve met in the postseason and the third time in the AFC championship game. Each has won one title game against the other.
But honestly, who cares?
It’s the playoffs. Nothing happens quite like you expect. The Patriots are slight underdogs traveling to Mile High Stadium this Sunday to face the most prolific passing offense in the history of the NFL, but if they won by 17, would anyone bat an eye?
Let’s break it down.
The Patriots have taken a different identity on offense of late after an all out aerial attack earlier this season. In the four games starting with that comeback victory against the Broncos, Brady threw for over 300 yards in each game.
Since? The Patriots have moved the ball on the ground effectively with Legarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley, and Brady hasn’t topped 200 passing yards once in the last four games, with the Pats winning each of those games while averaging close to 40 points.
Look for the same kind of attack to control the time of possession and attempt to keep Peyton off the field on Sunday.
As for the Broncos, what can you say? With the human computer calling audibles at will under center, Denver will pass when you think they’re going to run, and run when you think they’re going to pass. That’s why they lead the NFL in total offense this season, 40 yards per game more than the next closest team, the Philadelphia Eagles. They have the best balance in football.
Contrary to popular belief, the Broncos will run the ball on Sunday. Knowshon Moreno racked up over 200 yards against a depleted Patriots run defense in their last meeting, so the Broncos will happily work off that and the play action opportunities it presents Manning.
Any way you slice it: running back, receiver, tight end; the Broncos have a sizable advantage this weekend.
Advantage: Denver Broncos
Laughably, when you look at these two defenses, you wonder how either team will stop the others opposing offense on Sunday. But because it’s the playoffs, this could be a 17-14 game that leaves everyone scratching their heads.
The Patriots have had every season-ending injury in the book this season on defense, and to the most impactful players on their unit. Notables include: Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Tommy Kelly, essentially the foundation of their defense, including a number of defensive backs that have missed time this season.
That’s not to say Bill Belichick’s defense isn’t opportunistic. They do get beat on the ground with a somewhat weak front seven of replacement and practice squad players, but they do force turnovers, and it seems that a different player seems to step up every week, whether it be Donta’ Hightower, Chandler Jones, or like last week against the Colts, Jaime Collins. Despite the lack of star power, make no mistake, they do compete.
The Broncos, on the other hand, without top linebacker and pass rusher Von Miller and top cornerback Chris Harris, they’re most likely going to have problems getting to Tom Brady this weekend. Shaun Phillips poses the only real threat, but he’ll most likely have his hands full with a very good Patriots offensive line.
As for the secondary, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola should have a field day against the old legs of Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer on Sunday afternoon, and somebody in that Broncos secondary will have to step up and make a play to have any kind of real impact. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should play in this one, but he is banged up so it remains to be seen if he’ll effective on Sunday. His presence would be a boost for the Broncos defense.
Advantage: New England Patriots
Trindon Holliday makes mistakes at times bringing balls deep out of the end zone in situations that don’t call for it, but he has the potential to break a long one while Blount doesn’t really have that on kickoff returns for the Patriots. The Broncos unit is also much stronger as a whole.
Advantage: Denver Broncos
John Fox will return to the sideline for this one after health issues prevented otherwise for most of this season, and while he’s a great coach in his own right, he’s not Bill Belichick. The chess match that ensues in this one could be legendary. At least we know Andy Reid won’t be involved so there’s no chance someone uses all three of their timeouts halfway through the 3rd quarter.
Advantage: New England Patriots
There’s really no easy calls this time of year, and Brady vs. Manning in mid-January is no exception. History tells you to go with Brady, and this season dictates you go with Manning, but honestly, I’m not sure if their play will be the sole reason one team prevails this weekend and goes on to the Super Bowl.
With a matchup this close, and two teams who can put the ball on the ground at any moment–much to the chagrin of their coaches–you have to think turnovers are a huge factor in deciding this matchup. With that in mind, I’m going with the team that has the +9 turnover margin this season in a close one over the team that just breaks even.
Patriots 34, Broncos 31
Shawn Ferris is a NFL, MLB, and Fantasy Sports writer for Sportstalkflorida.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealShawnFerris  for more sports news and updates.
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