Heading into the 2014 season, the Patriots and Broncos seemed destined to again meet in the AFC Championship game. A month into the season, the Pats weren’t living up to their end of the bargain as they owned a 2-2 record and were coming off a blowout loss at the hands of the Chiefs. Tom Brady looked old, but Peyton Manning sure didn’t. Brady had just four touchdown passes through four games while Manning had already thrown 12 TD passes as the Broncos offense somehow looked even better than its 2013 version.
Suddenly, the script is back to normal. Brady has thrown 14 touchdown passes in the past four weeks and the 6-2 Pats now own the second best record in the AFC, behind of course, Manning’s 6-1 Broncos.
Brady vs. Manning XVI is this Sunday (4:25 p.m., CBS). Here are a few items to keep tabs on:
1. Gillette still not Peyton's place
It’s going to be cold and windy in Foxboro on Sunday. Peyton Manning must think it’s always like that around here. In November of 2013, the game in which the Patriots came back from a 24-0 halftime hole, Manning had to deal with temps in the low 20s and 22 mph wind. This Sunday won’t be as cold, but there is a 10 percent chance of rain and winds could reach as high as 28 mph. Manning threw for just 150 yards in that contest and had a QB rating of 70.4. Bill Belichick even gave Manning the ball in overtime to gain the wind advantage. Manning hasn't won in Foxboro since 2006.
2. Beyond Peyton and the pass game
Belichick is known for taking away team’s strengths. Obviously, Denver’s strength is the arm of Manning and the great receivers at his disposal. But the Broncos rushing attack isn’t exactly weak. Ronnie Hillman had 100 yards rushing against the Jets in Week 6, had a pair of touchdowns against the 49ers in Week 7 and had 109 yards rushing last week against San Diego. In last year’s game in Foxboro, then Denver running back Knowshon Moreno ran the ball 37 times for a whopping 224 yards.
3.Intrigued by Aqib
One of the more memorable games of the 2013 season for the Patriots was the home victory over the Saints. In that contest, then Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib was matched up with tight end Jimmy Graham and his play against the Pro Bowl was a huge reason why New England was victorious. Graham was targeted six times, but did not catch a single ball. Rob Gronkowski has been on a tear of late and there’s reason to believe that Talib could get Gronk duty.