You are here

AFC Championship Game

#301 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ #302 DENVER BRONCOS
(TV: 3:00 PM EST, CBS. Line: Broncos -5, Total: 55) - In a season in which Peyton Manning surpassed Tom Brady's single-season record for touchdown passes, it's probably fitting that these superstars will meet with the AFC title on the line. While the quarterbacks will share this weekend's spotlight, there's reason to believe the rushing attacks for the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will be more decisive to Sunday's outcome. This could be the final postseason matchup between these future Hall of Fame signal-callers, and the stakes couldn't be higher with a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line in Denver.

Manning was the story of the season as he dissected NFL defenses with ease for 55 touchdown passes. Brady set the previous mark of 50 in 2007 when the Patriots nearly completed an historic 19-0 season before an upset loss in the Super Bowl to a New York Giants team led by Manning's brother, Eli. Brady has won 10 of 14 matchups with Manning's teams, including a 2-1 mark in the postseason in which the home team has prevailed each time. This duel is drawing comparisons to other iconic sports matchups such as Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus and Bird-Magic. "It's going to a barnburner," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said.

The first meeting this season certainly was a thriller, as New England (13-4) rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit for a 34-31 overtime win Nov. 24 in Foxborough. Manning was held to 150 yards, a 52.8 completion percentage and a 70.4 passer rating -- by far his worst figures of his historic season. Denver (14-3) is favored this time as the No. 1 seed with home-field advantage. Brady, who missed practice Wednesday, said in his weekly WEEI radio show that he is relishing being the underdog. "I'm sure no one's going to pick us to win this week," said Brady, who will make his eighth AFC title game appearance and third in as many years. "We've had our backs against the wall for a while. Really, the whole season we've lost players, and teams have really counted us out."

The players that Brady and Manning will hand off to this weekend figure to be crucial in determining the winner. Elway had Terrell Davis in his backfield when Denver won the Super Bowl in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, and Manning also will give the ball to a former Georgia tailback. Knowshon Moreno had a career-high 1,038 rushing yards this season, and the Patriots will be very familiar with him after he had a career-best 224 yards in the November meeting. Moreno's 23 carries for 82 yards along with a touchdown last Sunday helped Denver enjoy over 35 minutes of possession in a 24-17 divisional victory over San Diego. He had offseason knee surgery after being limited to 15 games over the past two seasons and now is one game away from a trip to the Super Bowl that will be about an hour's drive from Middletown, N.J., where Moreno grew up. "He has just been a rock for us back there," Manning said.

While New England knows what to expect from Moreno, Denver can't say the same about LeGarrette Blount, who had two carries for 13 yards the last time these teams met. Blount is rolling now with a career-high 189 rushing yards in a 34-20 win over Buffalo in Week #17, and 166 with four TDs in last Saturday's 43-22 rout of Indianapolis. "I think they do a good job with personnel and he's obviously another different weapon but he's big and physical," Denver coach John Fox said. "He's got skins on the wall in this league as far as a running back." The emergence of a New England running game that also features Stevan Ridley has taken the pressure off Brady, who was sacked 40 times this year for his highest total since 2001.

One of Brady's best efforts came against Denver, as he completed 34 of 50 passes for 344 yards, three scores and no interceptions. Brady has mostly been without his top five targets of 2012, with Wes Welker having departed to Denver and Rob Gronkowski limited to seven games before season-ending knee surgery. Julian Edelman has stepped up with a team-high 1,056 yards. "I think he's really led our receiving group with a tremendous amount of toughness, consistency," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "He practices hard, prepares hard, he's on top of his game plan." McDaniels will return to Denver for the first time since he posted an 11-17 record as Broncos coach before he was fired during the 2010 season.

Manning will be able to target tight end Julius Thomas, who missed the first meeting with a knee injury. Thomas had a team-high 76 yards through the air last weekend on six catches, converting a key 3rd-and-17 in the closing minutes to help seal the win. "Excellent player -- size, speed, he's a good vertical receiver, he gets down the field on seams and flags and over routes and wheel routes, like he caught last week and things like that," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "He's also good on catch-and-run plays."

Welker will try to atone for his gaffe in the first meeting when he failed to inform his teammates in time that he was not going to field Ryan Allen's punt in overtime. Teammate Tony Carter ran into it, and the Patriots recovered the ball to lead to Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal with 1:56 left. Allen hurt his shoulder in the second quarter against the Colts, with Gostkowski punting the rest of the game. Allen returned to practice Wednesday, but Belichick did not say who will handle the punting duties.

•PREGAME NOTES: Under head coach Bill Belichick, New England has played in eight AFC Championship games, three of them played on the road.... The Patriots have gone 6-2 in those contests and that includes a 2-1 record on the road. The ‘under’ has produced a 5-3 mark.... Denver hasn’t been to the AFC Championship since the 2005-06 playoffs and it was doubled-up at Pittsburgh, 34-17.... Baltimore defeated New England 28-13 in last year’s AFC title game on the road. Prior to that outcome, the home team has won the six previous conference championships.

•KEY STATS
-- NEW ENGLAND is 9-1 ATS (+7.9 Units) versus incredible offensive teams - scoring 29 or more points/game in the second half of the season since 1992.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 26.0, OPPONENT 19.0.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 6-0 ATS (+6.0 Units) versus excellent offensive teams - averaging >=375 yards/game over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 37.7, OPPONENT 23.3.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 7-0 ATS (+7.0 Units) against AFC West division opponents over the last 3 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 35.9, OPPONENT 18.3.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 24-8 ATS (+15.2 Units) after gaining 175 or more rushing yards last game since 1992.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 28.0, OPPONENT 17.5.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 8-0 OVER (+8.0 Units) versus excellent passing teams with a completion pct. of 64% or better over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 37.1, OPPONENT 27.0.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 11-1 OVER (+9.9 Units) versus good offensive teams - averaging >=350 yards/game over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 36.9, OPPONENT 26.5.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 18-5 OVER (+12.5 Units) after allowing 6 or more yards/play in their previous game over the last 3 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 33.8, OPPONENT 21.7.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 17-4 against the 1rst half line (+12.6 Units) in road games vs. excellent passing teams with a completion pct. of 64% or better since 1992.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 15.0, OPPONENT 10.0.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 7-0 UNDER (+7.0 Units) the 1rst half total versus good passing teams averaging 7 or more passing yards/att. over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 11.6, OPPONENT 10.3.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 13-2 UNDER (+10.8 Units) the 1rst half total versus good offensive teams - scoring 24 or more points/game over the last 3 seasons.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 11.9, OPPONENT 9.7.

-- NEW ENGLAND is 7-0 UNDER (+7.0 Units) the 1rst half total after gaining 400 or more total yards in their previous game this season.
The average score was NEW ENGLAND 7.6, OPPONENT 6.6.

-- DENVER is 40-17 OVER (+21.3 Units) when playing against a top-level team (Win Pct. > 75%) since 1992.
The average score was DENVER 22.8, OPPONENT 24.8.

-- DENVER is 46-19 OVER (+25.1 Units) versus good rushing teams - averaging >=130 rushing yards/game since 1992.
The average score was DENVER 24.4, OPPONENT 23.2.

-- DENVER is 30-12 OVER (+16.8 Units) versus very good offensive teams - scoring 27 or more points/game since 1992.
The average score was DENVER 23.3, OPPONENT 27.8.

-- DENVER is 17-4 OVER (+12.6 Units) after leading their last 3 games by 7+ points at the half since 1992.
The average score was DENVER 28.9, OPPONENT 21.6.

-- DENVER is 11-2 OVER (+8.8 Units) after 3 or more consecutive wins over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was DENVER 34.5, OPPONENT 22.3.

-- DENVER is 9-1 UNDER (+7.9 Units) in home games revenging an upset loss against opponent as a road favorite since 1992.
The average score was DENVER 23.6, OPPONENT 11.5.

-- FOX is 11-1 UNDER (+9.9 Units) in home games versus mistake free teams - 42 or less penalty yards per game in all games he has coached since 1992.
The average score was FOX 17.6, OPPONENT 16.8.

-- DENVER is 14-2 against the 1rst half line (+11.8 Units) in home games versus good rushing teams - averaging >=130 rushing yards/game in the second half of the season since 1992.
The average score was DENVER 17.3, OPPONENT 5.6.

-- DENVER is 7-0 OVER (+7.0 Units) the 1rst half total when playing against a top-level team (Win Pct. > 75%) over the last 3 seasons.
The average score was DENVER 14.4, OPPONENT 21.4.

-- DENVER is 35-15 OVER (+18.5 Units) the 1rst half total versus excellent punt coverage teams, allowing The average score was DENVER 12.7, OPPONENT 11.0.

-- DENVER is 13-3 UNDER (+9.7 Units) the 1rst half total versus good passing teams averaging 235 or more passing yards/game over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was DENVER 15.2, OPPONENT 8.8.

-- DENVER is 11-2 UNDER (+8.8 Units) the 1rst half total versus good offensive teams - averaging >=350 yards/game over the last 2 seasons.
The average score was DENVER 14.5, OPPONENT 8.8.

•HEAD-TO-HEAD HISTORY
The Patriots rallied from a 24-0 deficit in Week 12 to defeat the Broncos 34-31 in a SNF matchup. New England closed as a one-point home underdog and the combined 65 points, 41 coming in the second-half, jumped ‘over’ the closing total of 54. Including this win, the Patriots have won and covered the last four matchups against the Broncos. Quarterback Tom Brady is 10-4 versus Peyton Manning all-time, 2-1 in the playoffs. They’ve met twice in the conference championship, with Brady winning in 2003 and Manning winning in 2006.

--DENVER is 10-8 against the spread versus NEW ENGLAND since 1992.
--DENVER is 10-8 straight up against NEW ENGLAND since 1992.
--12 of 18 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992.

--DENVER is 9-9 versus the first half line when playing against NEW ENGLAND since 1992.
--13 of 18 games in this series have gone OVER THE FIRST HALF TOTAL since 1992.

--Patriots are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 meetings.
--Over is 4-0 in the last 4 meetings.
--Over is 7-2 in the last 9 meetings in Denver.

--Favorite is 4-0 ATS in their last 4 meetings.
--Home team is 5-1 ATS in their last 6 meetings.


72% OF BETS ARE ON THE PATS DRIVING THE OPENING LINE OF 7 AS LOW AS 4 BEFORE SETTLING IN AT 5
67% ARE BETTING THE OVER MOVING THE OPENING LINE FROM 54 TO 57

MY PLAYS PATS +5 and OVER 56½