On Sunday, the last two teams to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl will face off for the right to play in Super Bowl 50. In this year’s earlier matchup, the Brock Osweiler led Broncos capitalized on some uncharacteristic Special Teams mistakes made by the Patriots and were able to pull out a 30-24 overtime win.
This will be the 17th matchup between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady since 2001. Though Brady leads the overall series between the two, Manning does have a 2-1 record against Brady in the AFC Championship Game. The most recent victory was in 2013 season when the Broncos beat an injury depleted Patriots team on their way to being crushed in Super Bowl XLVIII by the Seattle Seahawks.
For the Patriots, they enter this game about as healthy as they have been since Week 10. Last week’s return of Julian Edelman for the Divisional Playoff game against Kansas City sparked the Patriots offense for the first time since mid-November.
So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to punch their ticket to Super Bowl 50.
Quarterback – Patriots: There will be an overwhelming about of media attention on the 17th (and possibly final) time that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning led teams meet. However taking all the ancient history out of the equation, Brady clearly has had a better year and has played much better than the aging Peyton Manning.
Running Backs – Broncos: CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have provided a solid one two punch for the Broncos running attack. The Patriots, on the other hand, seem to have totally given up on the running game though James White has provided another viable option in pass catching situations.
Wide Receivers – Push: The return of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola evens out the matchup with the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Though Rob Gronkowski may be nursing a few injuries, he provides a more viable threat than whatever the Broncos currently have on their roster.
Offensive Line – Broncos: Both Denver and New England have had below average offensive line play this year but the Broncos do have the edge with their ability to run block as of late.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Both teams feature front seven units that have been solid against the run while being able to disrupt opponents’ passing games.
Ssecondary – Broncos: Though the Patriots secondary has played better than most people expected going into the 2015 season, the Broncos have fielded a much better secondary unit that led the league with the fewest allowed passing yards.
Special Teams – Patriots: The return of Danny Amendola should reduce the Special Teams errors that plagued the Patriots in their earlier matchup with the Broncos.
Coaching – Patriots: Gary Kubiak has a 2-4 lifetime record against Bill Belichick which includes the victory against the Patriots earlier this season. However Kubiak has a 2-2 post season coaching record and is going against the All Time Leader in post season wins in Bill Belichick. Though historical win-loss statistics are meaningless on game day, Belichick clearly has the advantage in knowing how to deal with and react to playoff pressure and make the adjustments needed in critical game situations.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Offensive Line Play: The return of several key wide receivers has allowed the Patriots to utilize their quick passing game again but since New England has all but abandoned their running game this year, the ability to give Tom Brady even the smallest amount of extra time could be the difference in this game.
2) Containing the Broncos Running Game: The success of the Broncos’ offense this year has been Gary Kubiak’s ability to take the ball out of their QB’s hands and allow the running game to set up play action passing. The Patriots need to control Denver’s rushing attack and force Peyton Manning to make deeper throws that are outside the numbers which he may not have the arm strength to make any more.
3) Maintain Emotional Control: There has been quite a bit of bulletin board material passed through social media this week between the Patriots and Broncos. Though this may have little impact on the game preparation itself, it can lead to unsportsmanlike penalties and personal fouls during the game. The Patriots need to ensure that they do not let themselves get drawn into anything that could give up yardage or first downs to the Broncos.
Though this week’s headlines will be dominated by Brady-Manning XVII, the real matchup to determining the outcome of this game will be how the Patriots offensive line can handle the Broncos’ front seven. Though the Patriots enter this game fairly healthy, their offensive line needs to prove that they can provide enough protection for Brady to utilize the quick passing game with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Undoubtedly Denver will focus quite a bit of attention on Rob Gronkowski which means there may be an opportunity to utilize James White to have the breakout game that Patriot fans have been waiting for.
Expect a close game that will come down to critical 4th quarter possessions.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 24 – Broncos 21