After winning their respective games last weekend, the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos will face each other in Denver for the AFC championship and a shot at the Lombardi trophy on Sunday at 3:00PM ET.
Here is you official TPF Patriots vs Broncos Championship round preview.
A little background
The Patriots’ season has been a story of struggle and perseverance. They have had injury after injury to key players, mainly on defense, most recently losing MLB Brandon Spikes to season ending injured reserve on January 6th. In total the Patriots have lost five defensive starters to injury this season. The Patriots finished the regular season a disappointing 26th in overall defense.
The Patriots have also struggled on offense. Without Welker, Hernandez, Woodhead, Gronkowski and Lloyd, the Patriots have averaged just a shade above 20 points per game this season. The Patriots still ranked 7th in total offense this season, but have looked much less dominant than they have in recent years.
Despite all of this, the Patriots finished 12-4, secured the 2nd seed in the AFC and ran all over the Colts defense in the Divisional round to the tune of 6 touchdowns in a 43-22 victory.
The Broncos season has not been as challenging. They cruised to a 13-3 record and handily beat the Chargers in the Divisional round. They have suffered a few major injuries to LB Von Miller and CB Chris Harris, but have complemented their stellar offense well enough to win, and win with regularity.
Offensively, as previously stated, the Broncos were dominant. They ranked number one in total offense. Peyton Manning picked defenses apart with surgical precision, and Running backs Monte Ball and Knowshon Moreno ran the ball effectively all season long.
Defensively the Broncos were average, ranking 19th in overall defense, a number that may be slightly skewed because of how much scoring their offense did. But with CB Chris Harris going on IR this week, they may be a little soft in the secondary. But then again they did just sign former Patriots defensive back Marquise Cole, who was released by the Pats on December 26th. I guess that would mean they’ve broken about even.
The Patriots and Broncos played one other time this season in an instant classic. After trailing by 24 points, the Patriots made an incredible comeback to win by a final score of 34-31 in OT.
Match-ups to watch
Broncos running backs vs the Patriots run defense
The Patriots run defense has been porous this season. They have lost 4 of their starting front 7 players to injury this season, and were not tested last week against the Colts because the Colts simply can’t run block. The Broncos ran up and down the field against them in their first meeting, and that was when they had starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who went on IR a few days before the Colts game.
If their game earlier this year taught us anything It’s that special teams can be the difference between going to the Super Bowl and going home. And with Denver return man Trindon Holliday’s tendency to fumble, and big play ability, this could go either way.
Wes Welker vs His Nerves
Wes Welker has been one of the best wide receivers in the league in the last few years… until he hits a late game situation. We all know about his drop in the Super Bowl, but Welker has made a habit of dropping important passes late in games. He actually did it last week against the Chargers when he dropped a sure touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He did it last year with the Patriots in the AFC championship, dropping a key third down play in a third quarter drive, a mistake that would play large in the Patriots loss.
The reason this happens to Welker is because he has small hands. He catches most passes over the middle with his body, not with his hands, as is proper technique. That’s all well and good, and has helped him secure 100 receptions in many seasons, but when the games on the line, and he has to catch a perfectly thrown ball with his hands, he often can’t do it. Keep an eye on Welker late in this one if It’s a close game, he could end up being the reason the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl.
Brady vs Manning
No matter what either of them say, they both want desperately to beat each other, not just to get the win and advance, but to prove who really is the superior quarterback. Despite the fact that they will never be on the field together, this will be the most fun matchups to watch all game, and we all get to sit back, watch, and enjoy it.
This is a late post-season game, and often times these games come down to which team is coached better, and in this game that team is undoubtedly the Patriots. With head coach Bill Belichick at the helm, I can’t pick against the Pats here. It will be tight, and it will be close, but in the end it will be the Patriots representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Who do you think will win the AFC championship? Let us know in the comments!