The 2016 AFC Championship game features the two top seeds, as the New England Patriots (12-4) play the Denver Broncos (12-4) on Sunday at 3:05 pm. There are a lot of ways to look at this contest. It is a battle between two very tough offenses, two division winners, and two of the top rival quarterbacks in the NFL. In many ways this is the matchup of matchups, as once again Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face one another in a game that has major implications.
Considering that this could possibly be Manning’s last shot at the Super Bowl and considering that Brady is on a mission to take down the championship after the Deflategate controversy, and you’ve got a game that’s bound to be charged with emotion. Plus, the Patriots always have a tough time in Denver, so they will be looking to shake that ghost, while the Broncos will want to utilize that mental edge.
Here are some stats that are important when it comes to scoring points. First, the Pats are best in the air and the Broncos on the ground. Still, both teams will need to balance their attacks with the Patriots needing some rushing yardage and the Broncos some decent pass stats.
For Denver, running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson must perform well for the Broncos to score. The Patriots need contributions from pass catchers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. These Denver running backs and New England receivers are the bread and butter for each respective team.
New England is averaging 29.1 PPG on offense, while Denver is at 22.2 PPG. That’s a decided advantage for the Pats. On defense, the Broncos are a bit better than the Patriots with the Denver D allowing just 18.5 PPG, while New England is letting team’s score 19.7. More on these defenses a bit later.
Here’s the skinny on this game. When the Patriot offense is running on all cylinders, it’s tough to beat them. At the same time, when Denver’s defense is focused and energized, it’s difficult to score. The one factor that helps the Pats is the fact that they are a more balanced club on both sides of the ball than the Broncos. Denver often struggles on offense.
QB vs QB
Brady (64.4% COMP, 36 TDs, 7 INTs, 102.2 RAT) is in great physical and mental shape and having a fantastic year. Manning (59.8% COMP, 9 TDs, 7 INTs, 67.9 RAT) is showing his age, having lost some zip on the ball and being susceptible to injury. Brady will need to use his physicality in this game like he did in his run for the TD against Kansas City last week. Manning will have to stay out of the way of the sack and keep his feet under him, while being careful not to toss the errant pass.
The edge goes to the Patriots here. Especially will the steely Brady transfixed on getting his fifth Super Bowl ring and stuffing the winning game ball into commissioner Roger Goodell’s face.
The Bronco defense has 52 sacks, 25 forced fumbles, and 13 recoveries. New England has to shut those aspects of this team down. That means protecting Brady and giving him time to pass. Brady is susceptible to the sack.
New England comes into the game also very strong in the same defensive areas at which Denver excels. The Pats have 49 sacks, 24 forced fumbles, and nine recoveries. Manning is even more susceptible to the sack than Brady and will need to be protected.
New England corner Logan Ryan could be a difference-maker especially with Manning’s penchant for throwing the ball where it should not go. Denver corner back Aqib Talib has the chops to make the big interception, but Brady is much more accurate than Manning.
The Patriots are favored by 3.5 points in this game. That’s saying something since Denver is at home and history is not on the Pat’s side. The last time these two teams met in Denver, which was in late November, the Broncos won 30-24. But the Pats are a bit different, as Julian Edelman is back. Plus, New England has the overall edge over the past 10 games, going 6-4 against Denver.
Denver got by Pittsburgh last week 23-16, while the Patriots took it to the Chiefs 27-20. When all factors are weighed, we like New England in this one. A final score of 27-23 looks to be reasonable, which puts this game over 44.5 points.