Who wins in a chess match, Bill Belichick or Peyton Manning?
Keep in mind, I’m not actually talking about moving pawns and rooks to get to the king. I’m talking about football, and more specifically, Sunday’s AFC Championship between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
The game will be played in Denver, at 1 p.m. Mountain Time. The winner advances to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco on Feb. 7, to play either the Carolina Panthers or Arizona Cardinals.
Much of the focus has been placed on the quarterbacks. As it should be. Because the story is just too good. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, one last time. It’s almost as if Vince McMahon has been pulling the strings all season long, just setting us up for this must-see main event.
And as popular and exciting a storyline as that may be, it’s not the most important battle that will determine the AFC representative in Super Bowl 50. That belongs to Belichick vs. Manning.
And I’m taking Belichick every single time.
I’m on the record saying the only way the Patriots lose this game is if they lose the turnover battle. And as the week rolls along, the more I believe the Patriots won’t lose this game. Not just because of how their offense clicked against Kansas City with the return of Julian Edelman, but also because I trust that Belichick will be able to confuse Manning at the line of scrimmage, enough to the point where we see his patented “happy feet” in the pocket.
And you know what that leads to? Turnovers.
The Patriots’ defense will force at least one interception from Manning on Sunday. And that one turnover may very well be enough to win, what I expect to be, a close game.
How will they do it? With disguision, of course.
Yes, I did just make up a word. In fact, I made it up years ago. And I did so while trying to figure out how to beat Manning. It’s a combination of two words and phrases: “Disguise” the blitz, and create “confusion” for the quarterback at the line of scrimmage.
You see, after last weekend’s loss to the Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Manning “the ultimate play caller.”
“He got them in some good checks and did a nice job,” continued Tomlin.
He’s right. Manning is the ultimate play caller at the line of scrimmage. Say what you want about his arm strength, or lack thereof, you can’t deny the fact that Manning’s got what it takes between the ears to turn nothing into something, as he reads a defense before the snap.
That’s really the only reason he’s still playing. In Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers, Manning replaced Brock Osweiler in the second half and changed the game. Sure, he only completed five of his nine passes, but his ability to read the defense and check into a run play can certainly make a difference. And it did in Week 17, which is why the Patriots have to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship.
In order to beat Manning, you’ll have to disguise the blitz and somehow confuse him before the snap. Belichick has the front-seven to be able to do just that.
If Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are healthy enough to play, they may be the keys to that strategy. Perhaps you could even see them set-up someone like Patrick Chung to come busting in on a blitz out of nowhere, as Hightower and Collins show the initial pressure and then unexpectedly drop into coverage.
Believe me, Belichick will have all of this and more up his sleeve on Sunday in Denver. He might not call it “disguision,” but it will be just that. And it will result in Manning dancing around, forcing a bad throw, turning it over to the Patriots, and eventually costing the Broncos the game.
So, here we go. Belichick vs. Manning, one last time. Who ya got?
Again, I’m taking Belichick every time.