Pats Preview: Pats @ Broncos in AFC Title Game
As the New England Patriots prepare to battle the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, Sunday at 3:05 pm, here are some thoughts about the match up:
One Step Away- Both teams are just a win away from reaching the Super Bowl, which is ultimately the goal each of these teams set heading into the season. With that in mind, it's fair to expect each team to empty their bag of tricks and do everything in their power to get to the Super Bowl.
A New Installment Of A Classic- One of the most classic battles in the history of the NFL is the Brady vs. Manning Bowl. This Sunday will mark the seventeenth time that the two quarterbacks will lead their teams against one another. While 17 times seems a bit repetitive, this time will be far different from the others. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady is still on the absolute top of his game, while Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has hit a quick and rigid decline in play over the past couple of seasons. Both quarterbacks will be on the field on Sunday, but only one will be the same version of himself from the previous 16 match ups and that could ultimately be the difference.
Stop The Run- The number one task for the New England defense, heading into this game, is to figure out a way to stop the Denver running game. In the first match up between these two teams, in November, the Broncos rushed the ball for 139 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground, including the game-winning score in overtime. That same effort out of the Denver backfield could spell doom for the Patriots. The Broncos' running game really opened up in the second half, after New England linebacker Dont'a Hightower left with a knee injury towards the end of the second quarter. Having Hightower and Jamie Collins, who missed the entirety of that game with a mysterious illness, presumably back on the field together should go a long way in slowing down Denver backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. If the Pats can successfully bottle up the run and force Manning, who has clearly lost a step or two, to beat them with his arm, in obvious passing situations, New England will be in great position to advance to their second straight Super Bowl.
Secondary Step Up- If the front seven of the the New England defense can find a way to stop the run and force Manning to pass his way down the field, the pressure will be on the Patriots secondary to make plays and cause turnovers. The Pats are most likely to double up on Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders with top cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety coverage over the top, probably in the form of Devin McCourty. On the other side, they'll most likely ask second cornerback Logan Ryan, who is bigger than Butler, to shadow the big frame of Demaryius Thomas. If Ryan and Butler can keep solid coverage and find a way to jump in front of a weak pass from Manning, it could change the course of the game. Another thing to look for in the secondary is the play of strong safety Patrick Chung, who has been dominant in coverage against tight ends this year. He'll probably see a lot of work against Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis. If he can keep up his success, it wil give Manning one less option to target.
Beat The Blitz- Offensively one of the keys for the Patriots will be beating the blitz and pressure that the Denver defense throws their way. Denver has two of the game's better pass rushers in ends Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and, along with the rest of the front seven, they can cause some havoc. The Broncos did finish the regular season with the most sacks (52) of any team in the league as well. The Patriots are one of the few teams in the league that have the ability to beat the pressure. With all hands on deck in the receiving corps and Brady's ability to get the ball out of his hand so quickly, the rush will have to get to the future Hall-of-Famer in under two seconds. If the Pat offensive line can do the same solid job they did against Kansas City last week, Brady should be able to move the ball down the field.
Prediction- When looking at the match up its pretty simple; A healthy Patriots offense is a pretty dominant unit. The same can be said for the Bronco defense. Both of those groups are relatively healthy. With that being said, I believe that a healthy Pats' offense is better than a healthy Denver defense. On the flip side, the Pats defense is much better than the Denver defense. So while the Pats should be able to put their usual amount of points on the board, or maybe slightly less, they should be able to limit what the Broncos can do offensively and punch their ticket to Super Bowl 50. Pats 34, Broncos 14