Peyton Manning is one win from advancing to his third Super Bowl, but he'll have to get past a longtime nemesis when the Denver Broncos host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. Manning shattered a number of passing records - including Brady's single-season touchdown mark - and is an overwhelming favorite to win an unprecedented fifth MVP award. Standing in his way is Brady, who is attempting to become the first quarterback to reach six Super Bowls.
It will mark the 15th overall matchup and fourth in the postseason for the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Brady has dominated the rivalry with a 10-4 record against Manning, including a 34-31 overtime win in New England on Nov. 24 - a game in which the Patriots erased a 24-0 halftime deficit. “It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning said. “Certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot. But when you get to the AFC Championship Game, it’s about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there.”
LINE HISTORY: Books opened the Broncos as big as 7-point home favorites and sharp money jumped on the Patriots, dropping the line as low as -4.5 with help from the public. Wiseguy action started showing on Denver and forced a move back up to -5.5. The total opened as low as 54.5 and was bet up as high as 57 points.
WEATHER REPORT: The forecast is calling for clear skies with temperatures in the mid 50s and winds blowing west at 6 mph, from sideline to sideline.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Patriots (-5.0) - Broncos (-7.0) + Home field (-3.0) = Broncos -5.0
KEY INJURIES: PATRIOTS: Kenbrell Thompkins WR - (Head) Questionable, Aaron Dobson WR - (Foot) Questionable, Tom Brady - (Flu) Probable. Ryan Allen P - (Shoulder) Questionable. BRONCOS: Rahim Moore S - (Leg) Questionable, Joel Dreessen TE - (Knee) Questionable, Chris Kuper G - (Ankle) Questionable.
WHAT BOOKS SAY: "This is by far one of the more interesting games we’ve booked in recent memory, as the public is supporting the dog and the wiseguys are on the favorite." - Michael Stewart, CarbonSports.ag.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: "New England just doesn’t get blown out on the road, so it’s worth taking a long look at grabbing the points in what is shaping up as a field-goal game in Colorado. The Patriots are running the ball more than they ever have in the Brady-Belichick Era, and Belichick doesn’t mind playing in tight games in Denver." - Covers Expert Art Aronson.
CHEERLEADER DEBATE: Patriots or Broncos?
Patriots are the 1st AFC team to reach 3 straight conference championships since the Bills reached 4 straight from 1990-93— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2014
WHY BET THE PATRIOTS (13-4 SU, 9-8 ATS, 10-7 O/U): New England rode a punishing running game led by LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley, who combined for 218 yards and six touchdowns. The 250-pound Blount has been a monster down the stretch with 431 yards and eight scores in his last three games, including a sledgehammer 166-yard, four-TD performance a week ago. New England's defense, which allowed an average of 21.1 points during the regular season, registered four interceptions and three sacks against Colts QB Andrew Luck last week.
WHY BET THE BRONOCS (14-3 SU, 10-6-1 ATS, 11-6 O/U): Manning orchestrated the top offensive season in league history, throwing for 55 touchdowns and an NFL-record 5,477 yards as Denver became the first team to surpass 600 points. The Broncos are the first team in history to have five players score 10 touchdowns, including wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, ex-Patriot Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas, who missed the first matchup with New England but had six catches for 76 yards in last week's 24-17 win over San Diego.
* Patriots are 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings.
* Over is 4-0 in the last four meetings.
* Home team is 5-1 ATS in their last six meetings.
* Over is 7-2 in the last nine meetings in Denver.
CONSENSUS PICK: Patriots +5.5 (60.28%), Over 55 (68.34%)