AFC Championship Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots Vs. Denver Broncos
- QuarterbackThe Patriots come into the AFC Championship after dominating the Colts with their running game. However, don’t think for a second that Tom Brady is going to dial it down against the Broncos. The loss of Denver cornerback Chris Harris (ACL) means the Broncos could be vulnerable in the secondary and Brady won’t hesitate to go after any perceived weakness.Peyton Manning has an opportunity to go to his third Super Bowl, and while he had a sensational year that included a record 55 touchdowns passes, he is under significant pressure to bring the Broncos their first championship since John Elway retired. Manning should be able to find open receivers against a New England defense that ranks 22nd overall.
- OffenseWhen Bill Belichick realized the Colts were going to have a tough time against the run, he unleashed a shocking ground attack that produced six touchdowns in the divisional playoffs. LeGarrette Blount (four TDs) is a power runner who can break away if he gets to the second level. Wideouts Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are both elusive runners after the catch.The Broncos were also productive on the ground in their divisional playoff victory over the Chargers. Knowshon Moreno will test the New England run defense. Wide receivers Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas have the ability to overwhelm any secondary and the Pats appear quite vulnerable in that area. Tight end Julius Thomas is a dangerous playmaker.
- DefenseThe Patriots played an opportunistic game against the Colts, intercepting Andrew Luck four times and putting pressure on him throughout the game. Rookie outside linebacker Jamie Collins asserted himself in the playoff win with six tackles, an interception and a sack. Defensive end Chandler Jones had a team-high 11.5 sacks this year.The Broncos could be in trouble because their defense may not be up to the task of slowing down Brady and the versatile Patriots. The loss of linebacker Von Miller (ACL) and Harris leave the Broncos in a weakened condition. Outside linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in tackles with 128 and is a nasty hitter. Shaun Phillips led the Broncos with 10.0 regular-season sacks.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots have had a very strong season on special teams as their coverage has been consistent and Blount has the ability to break big returns. However, punter Ryan Allen suffered a shoulder injury vs. the Colts, and it appears PK Stephen Gostkowski will handle the punting chores if Allen is not healthy.The Broncos have the ability to break any game open if return specialist Trindon Holliday breaks into the open on a punt or kickoff return. Their punt and kickoff coverage has been ordinary. Placekicker Matt Prater made 25-of-26 FG attempts this season.
This classic matchup between these two AFC heavyweights should be a thriller. While the Broncos have defensive weaknesses that Brady may exploit, Manning has been too good this season to let this opportunity slip through his grasp. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor