Sunday’s AFC Championship Game will feature two of football’s most illustrious quarterbacks of all-time as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos take on Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. I think that the tale of the tape in this matchup will be which team’s offense can outscore the other one, so in this preview, I’ll be taking a look at not only Brady and Manning, but the weapons on both units, and who ultimately should have the edge come game time.
For the Patriots, Tom Brady is of course the lifeline. However, the factor that intrigues me the most about New England’s offense is its ability to adapt on week-by-week basis, depending on the opponent, projected game conditions, and the “flow” of the team. Let’s start at the beginning of the year. Sure, the Pats were without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, but Brady was able perform and win with young wide receivers such as Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Along with steady slot receiver Julian Edleman, the Pats passing game seemed to be poised for greatness when Gronkowski would return from injury. However, when the second half of the season rolled around, the injury bug struck the skill positions again. Gronkowski was lost for the season by way of a torn MCL and ACL that he suffered against the Browns in Week 14. Shane Veeren was just returning from an arm injury that had sidelined him since Week 1. Danny Ammendola, who was supposed to a suitable replacement for Wes Welker, could not get healthy much less produce the numbers that were expected of him. So, what did the Pats do? Adapt. They turned to their running game, and LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley (when he wasn’t fumbling), and Brandon Bolden answered the call. The Patriots ended the regular season ranked 9th in the NFL with 129 rushing yards per game, which is far cry from the pass happy New England offense that we all know. New England looked nothing short of dominant last week in their 44-23 victory over Indianapolis, with Brady making smart decisions when needed throwing the ball and Blount and Co. tearing it up on the ground (Blount finished with 24 carries for 166 yards and four touchdowns, the latter a Patriots postseason record). New England’s ability to adapt in a hostile environment will certainly help them when they travel to Denver on Sunday.
Peyton Manning has been spectacular for Denver this season. That statement should really sum up Denver’s offense as a whole, but there is of course more to it. First of all, hats off to the Denver wide receiving corp. I’m sure that most of you would say “Hey, even I could have a 1000 yard receiving season if Peyton Manning was throwing me the ball”, but be honest with yourself. The screen game is a huge part of Denver’s offense, and Demaryius Thomas earned a whole bunch of his 1430 yards this season by catching and running with the ball. Eric Decker, while inconsistent at times, can lineup anywhere on the offensive side of the football and be a threat to score (and heck, we even saw his value of as a return man last week) and we all know about Wes Welker’s history of lighting it up in the slot. Knoshown Moreno has reaffirmed himself as a number one running back throughout the course of this season, and even rookie Montee Ball has shown flashes of brilliance as of late. In short, if you scheme heavily to shut down Manning, you are going to miss some part of the offense that can beat you just as bad. In my mind, the only time that this offense can truly be slowed down is either A.) You physically keep them off of the field with good clock management by your offense, or B.) The Broncos begin beating themselves by making bad reads and/or fumbling the football. Of course, we have seen this offense get shut down at times this season, but when the passing game isn’t working for the Broncos, they change it up and get the run game working just as well. The ability for Manning and Co. to adapt and change things up at the line (OMAHA, OMAHA!) will be a huge factor, especially with the crowd on their side when Sunday comes around.
So, did you notice anything about those two paragraphs? Maybe you guessed it, but both offenses are very good at adapting to their surroundings. I think that both the Patriots and the Broncos have glaring strengths and weaknesses in their defenses, which both offenses will game plan around and exploit. As I stated before, the winner of this game will be the offense that can outscore the other one. While I’m personally a huge Peyton Manning fan, and will even be rooting for the Broncos on Sunday, I think that Tom Brady and the Patriots will have the last laugh. If Brady can make the clutch throw when he needs to, and LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley can protect the ball and make New England’s drives last 5-7 minutes each time, then Peyton won’t be on the field for enough time to make as big as an impact as he would with more clock. You also may have noticed that I didn’t present a lot of facts and statistics in this article, and I’ll leave you with an explanation. At the end of the day, this is a conference championship game featuring two of the best teams in football. The winner gets to play for one of the biggest honors in sports, while the other has to wait seven months to even play competitive football again. You can analyze the stats all that you want, but when it’s all said and done, whoever wants it more will take it home. Sunday is poised to be a game for the ages, and I hope you are excited as I am to watch it.
Score Prediction: NEW ENGLAND 42 – DENVER 38
Categories: Fantasy Football