AFC Championship – Patriots vs. Broncos: 3 things to watch

Peyton Manning Broncos
Peyton Manning wil be looking to make his third trip to the Super Bowl this Sunday while Tom Brady will be looking to make his sixth voyage to the big game. Credit: Getty Images

It had to be this way, didn’t it?

The Patriots and Broncos are one game away from Super Bowl XLVIII, and standing in each other’s way. The two teams will battle it out on Sunday (3 p.m., CBS) for a trip to balmy MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. There are plenty of factors in play, and matchups to watch out for, but let’s be honest – it always comes down to Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.

This will be the 15th game between the two future Hall of Fame QBs, with Brady holding a commanding 10-4 record. But history – especially in the NFL these days – means nothing. Sunday, it will be all about the team that prepares and executes its respective game plan better, from the coaching staff on down.

Can the Pats keep on running?
The Patriots’ marquee always shows Brady, but over the last three games, the Patriots have turned into a run-first team. In that time, the Patriots have 75 pass attempts for 492 passing yards to 118 carries for 647 rushing yards. So, will that trend continue, or will the Pats pass more? Expect more balance. Denver’s rushing defense was actually pretty good in the regular season, ranking seventh in yards allowed (101.6). They allowed 272.5 passing yards per game, 28th in NFL. Even so, the Broncos may dare the Pats to throw it more, as Brady doesn’t exactly have the greatest weapons at his disposal this season. Without linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris, though, both the Broncos’ run defense and pass defense is suspect.

Manning with more artillery
Manning doesn’t have Brady’s problem. He’s got plenty of stud receivers to choose from – Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and tight end Julius Thomas. In fact, Julius Thomas didn’t even play the last time these two teams met in Week 12. And the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end just so happens to have tied for the team lead in touchdowns (12) while reeling in 65 receptions for 788 yards. Expect him to have a big day.


“There are going to be times where, across the board all four of those guys are going to be man-to-man coverage with somebody on our team and you are going to have to try and win the matchup,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.

No surprises here
How do you know that this is an evenly matched game? Because you won’t be surprised, either way, as to which one ends up winning. Most people assumed the Broncos would be here thanks to their high-powered offense all season. But the Patriots have found ways to win time and time again when it seemed like the latest blow would be the fatal one.


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