Pats vs. Broncos AFC Championship Preview: One Last Dance

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On Sunday afternoon, the Pats and Broncos will rekindle a relationship that Peyton Manning would rather soon forget. With Tom Terrific sporting a career record of 11-5 against Manning, the Pats should be confident heading into their Sunday afternoon clash with Denver. Although Peyton is coming into the game with a weakened arm and an ever-growing head, he and his team still pose a considerable threat to the Patriots and their quest for a 5th Super Bowl title. As we all know, football is a game of matchups and the Patriots will have to capitalize on the Broncos weaknesses in order to come out victorious. These are the matchups people need to watch that will have the most impact on the game:

Patriots O-Line vs. Broncos D-Line

In my opinion, this is the most important matchup to watch in the upcoming contest. The Patriots’ best chance to dominate this game lies in Tom Brady’s ability to get the ball out out of his hands as quick as possible. The Patriots’ offensive line, which was instrumental in the Patriots win in the Divisional Playoff against the Chiefs, will have to stop Denver’s powerful defensive front. You can be sure that Denver will be mixing up its defensive looks constantly throughout the game to confuse the young, patchwork offensive line of the Patriots. The main key will be to stop the outside rush from Demarcus Ware, who despite his veteran status, is still showing little signs of wear (no pun intended). Look for the Patriots to run a lot of short pass plays to avoid putting too much pressure on their offensive line.

Broncos Running Game vs. Pats Linebackers

The Broncos must use their running game to open up their pass game, just as they did in the first meeting between the two teams. CJ Anderson had one of his best games of the season against the Patriots earlier in the season, so the Patriots linebackers need to be flying around the field plugging the holes that the Broncos O-line creates. With Jerrod Mayo out of the season, the Pats will have to rely on a hobbled linebacking core that includes one of the fastest linebackers in the league, Jamie Collins, as well as one of the best run stopping linebackers, Dont’a Hightower. If the Patriots can shut down the Denver running game early, Peyton will be forced to pass a lot, which will not bode well for him the longer the games goes on. Running the ball is also essential for the Broncos because it will eat up clock, and keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands, which is really the only chance they have of winning.

Broncos Wide Receivers vs. Patriots Defensive Backs

If the Broncos are unable to make the most of their wideout matchups in this game, then they might as well mail it in today. Even if the Broncos are able to open up their passing game with the run, their receivers will have to play much better than they did in the divisional round. Denver receivers had a combined six drops in last weeks game, making Peyton Manning’s completely average performance look even worse. The Broncos’ receiving core, which includes two of the best in the league, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas will need to be at the top of their game to give their team a chance. However, since Peyton can barely throw the ball more than 40 yards, these matchups look as though they will play into the Pats hands, as most teams are usually more successful when they challenge the Pats deep. Look for emerging #1 corner Malcolm Butler to be strapped to Demaryius throughout the game, with the linebackers (especially Jamie Collins) helping to cover Sanders and stop any yards after catch on short routes down the middle.

One last thing to look for in the game: The Patriots and Broncos both have top-5 kickers playing for their respective squads (Stephen Gostkowski & Brandon McManus). Both have been money all season. Expect both teams to show complete confidence in their kickers throughout the game.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Broncos 17. TIME TO SEND PEYTON MANNING TO THE CROSSROADS!