That’s just one of the many questions up for debate this Sunday when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots visit Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
Bettors have been split on this classic clash of the titans, with early Patriots money trimming the spread from a touchdown to -4.5. But now action is coming back on the Broncos, making this one of the toughest games to handicap in recent history.
In order to get a better grip on Sunday’s AFC title game, we’ve enlisted the help of those who know these teams best. Richard Hill of Patriots blog “Pats Pulpit” and Kirk Davis of Broncos blog “Bronco Planet” straps on the pads and debate who not only wins the AFC Championship but who covers Sunday.
WHY THE PATRIOTS COVER
Richard Hill is an editor at Pats Pulpit. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @patspulpit.
Keeping it close
Five of the past six games between the Patriots and Broncos have been decided by one score, with the average margin of victory at 4.67 points. Half of the games have been decided by three or fewer points. Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots always play Peyton Manning to a close finish. Even if the Broncos win, the Patriots shouldn’t be far behind and should definitely cover.
The Broncos are decimated on defense and the Patriots will be all too willing to take advantage of their weakened run defense. The Broncos are going to be without their unquestioned best defensive player (Von Miller) and without their best defensive back on the season (Chris Harris Jr.). If the Patriots can hold off pressure, then Brady should be able to pick apart the defense. Miller, as well as Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe, will be inactive and the three combined for 12 of the 17 total pressures in the first matchup with New England.
Pats putting it together
The Patriots defense was a wreck in the first game. Their current best defensive tackle wasn’t around (Sealver Siliga), three of their starting defensive backs were injured (Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Steve Gregory), and the linebackers were the weakest pieces of the defense (Dont’a Hightower was benched and Jamie Collins hadn’t yet emerged). All of these have changed in the Patriots’ favor. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots win straight up.
WHY THE BRONCOS COVER
Kirk Davis writes from Bronco Planet. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @broncoplanet.
No place like home
The numbers tell us that Denver is 2-1 all time against New England in the postseason, including a 2-0 record in the Mile High City. The Broncos are also 14-4 all time at home in the playoffs, including a 6-2 mark in AFC Championship Games in which they have 4-1 record at Mile High.
Run stops here
One could argue for eternity as to which team's quarterback is better. Suffice it to say, that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are elite franchise QBs. That leaves the running game against the defenses. Denver holds the edge here as it is better at stuffing the run. LeGarrette Blount won't be running for 166 yards and four touchdowns against a Denver defense that has only allowed one 100-yard performance by a running back this season. Knowshon Moreno, on the other hand, ran for 224 yards and a score against this very Patriots team in Week 12.
Man(ning) on a mission
Manning just finished the most proficient season by a quarterback in NFL history. No one could have predicted back to back 13-3 seasons out of a 37 year old coming off four neck surgeries three years ago. After an overtime upset by the Steelers in the playoffs last season, Peyton has imposed fortitude throughout the entire Broncos organization to the point that Denver will settle for nothing less than a Lombardi Trophy next month. Manning is 1-0 vs. New England at home in the postseason. As a Bronco, (including playoffs), Peyton is 15-3 at home with 54 Touchdowns vs. 11 Interceptions and a 111.1 passer rating.
Join the debate. Who covers in the AFC Championship Game: Patriots or Broncos?