AFC Championship Game Preview
By Levi Dunagan
Manning versus Brady (2014, volume two).
The AFC Championship will match two great quarterbacks in Denver, Colorado this weekend. The Patriots won the regular season matchup after Denver led by 24 points at one point. The Broncos will be seeking revenge after their collapse.
The Denver Broncos boast a team of offensive weapons, aggressive defense, and perhaps the league’s best kicker. Manning will look to find Welker, Thomas, and Decker throughout the game to exploit one of Denver’s greatest advantages.
The Broncos running game is lead by Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Ball has had issues with fumbles this season. Moreno has had his best season as a member of the Broncos and performed at a high level the last time these two teams played.
The Broncos defense has sustained injuries to Von Miller and to it’s secondary. However, the defense has been excellent against the run most of the season. Most of the concern about the secondary (which is poor statistically) could easily stem from teams that are forced to pass the ball more often against the Broncos, who are usually leading throughout the game.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have been negatively impacted by injuries almost all season. The team looks nothing like previous teams that boasted dynamic offensive weapons like Hernandez, Welker (now a Denver Bronco), Gronkowski, etc.
However, that does not mean that New England is lacking in terms of playmakers.
The New England backfield boasts three dynamic backs in Blount, Ridley, and Vereen. Blount is the power runner and coming off a record night against Indianapolis. Ridley is a versatile back, he has struggled at times this year with fumbles and injuries, but he has been productive for several years now. Vereen is used mostly in the passing game. Vereen is a viable receiving option for the Patriots who have been in the need of consistent pass catchers.
Defensively, the injuries have mounted. The Patriots do still have a versatile front seven and a secondary that has improved in recent weeks. The unit is well coached and should continue to play well.
Denver – RB Knowshon Moreno
Denver boasts a stellar passing game and Peyton Manning has had a truly elite season. I do not feel, however, that the Denver passing game will be enough to carry the load against New England. The Broncos need to keep Moreno involved against the Patriots defensive looks. I expect the Patriots to show Manning defensive sets that set up for running plays (to get the ball out of Manning’s hands) and try to bait him into passing when the safer option is to run the ball. Moreno will need to make the Patriots pay and the chains moving for Denver to win.
New England – DB Aqib Talib
The Patriots will need Talib to defend the explosive Demaryius Thomas most of the night. This is a difficult task because of the variety of ways that Thomas is used in the Denver passing attack. Talib will be counted on to stop big plays from Peyton’s favorite receiver. The New England secondary must force Manning into longer throws and prevent yards after the catch on shorter routes; this is where Manning has been able to put up his biggest numbers this year. Manning has had a great season, however, the velocity on the ball hasn’t been as consistent and New England has to do all it can to stop Denver’s best positional unit.
Denver has a more talented team than New England.
The New England roster has been decimated by injuries all season and the game against Denver will be no different.
Peyton Manning has had a season for the ages and he should win this game and earn the right to be in New York for the Super Bowl.
That is not going to happen.
Ultimately, New England and Tom Brady have Manning’s number. Tom Brady’s leadership and accuracy will continue to lead the Patriots as they go up against Denver, but that is not the difference in the game.
The difference in the game is Josh McDaniels (New England Offensive Coordinator) willingness to run the football. This will allow New England to grind the pace of the game down and get the ball to its deepest unit of playmakers.
In a close game, I like Tom Brady to use the threat of the Patriot rushing attack to his advantage.
New England 34 Denver 28