Who would have guessed these two teams would have been here at the start of the season? Well, many people did, and so did Vegas. The four teams with the best odds to win the Super Bowl at the start of the preseason were the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks, and 49ers. Sure, this year we don’t have that cinderella team that is making an unexpected run for the title, but I feel like we could use a break from that…right?
I know Patriots fans are tired of the cinderella team. This is the 3rd straight year New England finds themselves in the AFC title game, but unlike the last two years of playing the Ravens at home, Tom Brady and co. are headed to Denver to take on the high-flying Broncos. It’s not just another chapter in the Brady vs. Manning history book as these two are ever so close to retirement.
Let’s take a look at the keys for both teams to advance to the Super Bowl…
Broncos 3 Keys
#1- wind or wins? What is Peyton Manning’s excuse for his blatant drop in production in the postseason? Some speculate that it’s the wind, other say it’s the cold, and I personally think its the lack of composure in crunch time. Regardless, if the Broncos are hoping to move on, they will need Manning to be clutch. The weather in Denver looks like it will be relatively warm with little wind, so if there was ever a time for Manning to light it up in the playoffs, this would be it.
#2- Can they replace Harris? Chris Harris is Denver’s #1 cornerback, but they lost him to an ACL tear last week. Harris was able to shut down rookie Keenan Allen, but once he left the game Allen torched the Denver secondary, scoring 2 TDs in the process. Champ Bailey may go down as one of the best corners to ever play in the NFL, but he is far past his prime. Will he be able to adjust back to covering wideouts instead of slot receivers? Or can Quentin Jammer rebound after a poor performance last week? They will need someone to carry the load for this secondary as Tom Brady will seek to exploit this gap in the defense all day.
#3- Build the pass off the run. It’s not secret that the Patriots have a weak interior defensive line right now. Considering that the Broncos ran for 264 yards last time they played, I think the Broncos know this too. The only problem Denver had in that game, though, was taking advantage of the run game by throwing the ball when the defense committed more people into the box to stop the run. Manning needs use the play action effectively to keep the defense off-balanced. If he can do this, I can’t imagine the Broncos losing this game.
Patriots 3 Keys
#1- It’s simple: pressure Manning, right? Wrong. This whole “Omaha” story is getting a lot of press this week, but Peyton Manning has been doing this his whole career. He is a genius as changing plays at the line of scrimmage and getting defenses on their heels with his hard-counts. It’s no easy task, but if the Patriots can’t make Manning uncomfortable in the pocket then Patriots will be watching the football fly down the field all day long. It will be uncomfortable. And I know I will be screaming at the TV. It will take disguised blitzes and spectacular individual efforts to pull this off, but hey, that’s what you have to do to get the Super Bowl.
#2- Find the weakness on defense. Watching the Broncos last week I noticed how easily they pressured Philip Rivers, even when they only sent 3 or 4 blitzers. I chalked this up to a banged up Chargers offensive line, but give some credit to this Denver defense that keeps losing star players on their side of the ball. Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots know all about losing star players, and it will be their mission to put together a game-plan to not let the Broncos get into a groove. We all know how much Brady struggles when a team is able to pressure him without sending extra players on a blitz, so let’s hope that doesn’t continue over to this week.
#3- Backups need to keep playing like starters. Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, and Logan Ryan. These “backups” are now getting the majority of snaps for the defense, and as of late have looked great. Who would have imagined a team with these 5 guys starting would be 1 game away from a Superbowl? Bill Belichick has a knack for filling in “no name” players into starting roles and watching them perform above expectations. With everyone at stake, will this defense stay calm and make plays against the greatest statistical offense in NFL history? We will see…
Thinking about this game gives me butterflies. What the Patriots have been able to overcome this year with the endless injuries to some of their best players is nothing short of spectacular. For the first time in years I have this feeling of being the underdog in a big game, and I must say it feels great. New England finally has that mentality back, and considering how they did in their run to their first ever Super Bowl, I would say this organization embraces the feeling. Many things have changed since that first Super Bowl, but one thing that hasn’t is the quarterback. Tom Brady has a chances to move on to his 6th Super Bowl, something no other quarterback has ever done. He lives for games like this, and I get the sense that he is going to step up.
Vegas has the Broncos favored by 4 points, but I have troubles picking the Broncos to win in this one.
Peyton Manning has shown me nothing in the playoffs. Ever. I know I am a Pats fan and a biased opinion is something I can’t hide, but this guy continuously fails to perform to his potential in “big” games. I’m certainly not putting my money on him, and I’m certainly not betting against my Pats!
Patriots 34 – Broncos 31