Brady vs. Manning XVII, Belichick vs. Kubiak, New England’s High Powered Offense vs. Denver’s #1 Defense. Could this be “The Sheriff’s” last stand? Can Brady win in Denver? Whichever headline you choose, there is no denying that when the Patriots play the Broncos in the AFC Championship at Sports Authority Field, the world will be watching.
Earlier this season the Patriots entered Sports Authority Field a bruised and beaten team. After Ten straight victories, New England was hurting badly. Star slot receiver Julian Edelman went down with a broken foot in week 10 against the New York Giants, leaving complimentary slot receiver Danny Amendola to pick up the slack in week 11. Amendola a great slot receiver in his own right just isn’t the same dynamic player that Edelman has shown to be. None of that would matter as in week 11 against the Buffalo Bills, Amendola went down with an injury and would be on the shelf for the following week. The next game on the schedule was of course, the Denver Broncos.
To be fair, the Denver Broncos were not without injury during week 12, although some wonder if it was addition by subtraction in some respects. Peyton Manning (with a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel) and DeMarcus Ware (bad lower back) were both on the injured list for the Nov. 29th game. Ware, a pass rushing force despite his advanced age, was sorely missed. Peyton Manning, the greatest regular season quarterback of all time, was another story completely. Despite a relatively high football acumen, Father Time has been kicking the snot out of Peyton Manning since the middle of the 2014 season, leaving him the worst rated Quarterback in the NFL. With Peyton’s injury the timing could not be better to unleash back up Quarterback, Brock Osweiler on the NFL. Brocks handled himself well a week prior against the Chicago Bears and look to be a possible upgrade over the declining Manning.
Needless to say neither team that played on Nov. 29th was at their best but Brady particularly was hampered by the loss of both Edelman and Amendola. During the game the Patriots eventually lost Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski. Due to a dropped punt, the momentum shifted and the Denver Broncos ended up outplaying the New England Patriots. Denver came away with not just the victory but ultimately the #1 seed in the AFC.
Over the season, the Broncos defense bulked back up to full force with DeMarcus Ware’s return. Due to a poor performance coupled with a low-grade strain to the medial collateral ligament of his right knee, Brock Osweiler was replaced with Peyton Manning in the second half of week 17’s game against the San Diego Chargers. Manning proved to be serviceable and Broncos nation quickly welcomed him back with open arms and abandoned the Brock Osweiler experiment.
As the playoffs began, the reigning, defending Super Bowl Champions were excited to have back Julian Edelman who finally took the field again for the first time since his week 10 injury. With Edelman back and much of the banged up defense looking healthy once again, the Patriots regained their winning ways by defeating Kansas City in the Divisional Championship. After the victory over the Chiefs, New England truly looked whole again.
On January 24th, the New England Patriots led by Tom Brady will take on the Denver Broncos in Denver’s own backyard. The Patriots have a 2-6 record in Denver, only defeating teams led by Danny Kanell and Tim Tebow. Rest assured, the loss from November 29th still stings both Tom Brady and the rest of his brood. Not only did that loss come from dropping a two score lead, not only did the Broncos end their undefeated streak but this was the game that ultimately decided where the AFC championship would be played.
Comparing this game to any other meeting is a short sighted attempt at siphoning past glory. Whereas Tom Brady is still at the top of his game, Peyton Manning could be suiting up for his last game. Manning is a shell of the great quarterback that he once was. Gone are the days of the long concise pass as he is now content handing the ball off and the occasional short passes. That is why whatever silly superlative you give this game is meaningless. This isn’t Brady vs. Manning XVII; this is the New England Patriots vs. The Denver Broncos.
Many feel the Denver Broncos are the underdogs going into this game, a fact that can’t be argued. The New England Patriots are the better balanced team and have more momentum on their side due to a far more impressive victory last weekend over a healthier opponent. The Denver Broncos do, however, have their home fans in their back pocket, an advantage that can’t be overlooked or denied. The Broncos have even gone as far as to only sell AFC Championship tickets to customers living in Denver. It’s a smart tactic that reeks of cowardice.
Denver will try every possible angle to stop the New England Patriots from reaching their goal of Super Bowl 50 and becoming the first back to back Super Bowl Champions since they accomplished the same feat in 2003/2004. In the end, it won’t be enough. The New England Patriots are laser focused and plan to right a wrong that happened more than two months ago; Beat Denver, in Denver.