By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots go on the road to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m ET.
The Patriots are coming off a 43-22 victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round. On the other side, the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers 24-17 Sunday.
These two teams last met on Nov. 24, 2013 when the Patriots defeated the Broncos 34-31. Tom Brady holds a 10-4 record over Peyton Manning and this will be the fifteenth meeting between the two quarterbacks.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Broncos win:
Start Fast: The Broncos scored more than any other team in the NFL this season, averaging 37.9 points-per-game. One thing I have taken away from Denver this season, they force their opponents to get into shootouts and play the way the Broncos want. If the Broncos start fast, not only will they set the tempo, but it will put pressure on the Patriots to score and shy away from the run game.
Get the Ball Downfield: Demaryius Thomas is one of the league’s better receivers. He’s fast, can get yards after the catch and makes some incredible plays. The Patriots are getting healthy in their defensive backfield, but are still susceptible to downfield passes. If the Broncos can protect Manning and he can get the ball to Thomas or other receivers downfield, they’ll put the Patriots under pressure.
Stop The Run: The Patriots have been on a tear the past few weeks and pounding opponents into submission on the ground. Led by LeGarrette Blount, New England hasn’t had a problem taking the ball out of Brady’s hands and controlling the game rushing. The last time these two teams played, the Broncos got off to a fast start and were able to make the Pats more one-sided as an offense.
Assuming a clean game is played by New England, they’ll look to establish the run early and often. While the Pats have had success rushing, they have limited options in the passing game. Taking away, or at least limiting, the running game will be a key for the Broncos this week.
Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola will need to be a factor against the Broncos Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)
How The Patriots Win:
Pressure Peyton: Manning likes to get the ball out of his hands as quick as possible, making it extremely hard to bring him down. In fact, he was only sacked 20 times during the regular season.
Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots front seven must swarm to Manning and, at the very least, make him uncomfortable in the pocket. New England needs to hit no. 18 as often as possible, legally of course. If they can do that successfully, expect him to make a few poor decisions.
Get Off The Field: The Patriots need to get off the field defensively in order to win the game, plain and simple. The team cannot expect the Broncos to turn the ball over, even though Denver had 26 turnovers in the regular season, that can’t be expected. New England has to find a way to slow down a potent Denver offense and get off the field on third down. When the game comes to an end, third down defense may tell the tale of this contest.
Receivers Need to Step Up: There’s a lot of talk about the Patriots rushing attack. Rightfully so, as the running game has been phenomenal for New England the past several weeks. The passing game has been an afterthought, however, and with all of the injuries this season, the only real threat in wide receiver Julian Edelman.
This cannot be the case Sunday, though. Whether it’s Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins or Austin Collie, the Patriots need their receivers to step up and make plays versus a weak Broncos secondary. Denver has suffered a ton of injuries defensively and their secondary is vulnerable. The question is, do the Pats have the weapons to take advantage of it? We’ll find out Sunday. Someone outside of Edelman will need to make a play when it counts.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Broncos 27.
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