AFC Championship Game Prediction: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
Without question, this is the greatest rivalry at the individual player level and it could possibly be the last time these two quarterbacks face each other with the stakes so high. Adding more drama to a matchup that doesn't need any artificial enhancement, the Broncos jumped to a 24-0 lead at halftime in their regular-season matchup, but they ended up collapsing and losing the game in overtime.
From a historical standpoint, Brady and Bill Belichick seem to have the number of Manning and John Fox.
In 14 head-to-head matchups, Brady is 10-4 against Peyton, but he actually has a losing record in his career against the Broncos (5-6), one of only two teams to have a winning record against him. Not only is Brady's record really good against Manning, but they are even better against Jack Del Rio-coached defenses (7-0). Meanwhile, Manning is 6-11 against Belichick-coached teams and Fox is only 1-6 all-time vs. Belichick.
A record-setting campaign for the Broncos' offense, they broke the record previously held by the 2007 Patriots for most points scored and Manning beat Brady's single-season touchdown record as well as Drew Brees' single-season passing yards mark. As impressively, five of the skill-position players for the Broncos have scored double-digit touchdowns this season: Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10).
On the other hand, the Patriots offense has been much less explosive with Brady throwing for less than 200 yards in three consecutive games. Julian Edelman has been Brady's go-to receiver this season and it was a huge game (9/110/2) on Nov. 24th vs. the Broncos that begun a really impressive seven-game run for Edelman (59/640/4) counting the playoffs.
Last week, the Patriots scored six touchdowns, but all of them were scored by LeGarrette Blount or Stevan Ridley. Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns, and he has rushed for eight touchdowns over his past three games combined.
The Broncos ran the ball well against the Patriots the first time around as Moreno gained a career-high 224 yards on 37 carries. As productive as he's been this season, rookie running back Montee Ball has been running the ball really well since the Patriots game as well. In his past seven games, Ball has averaged 6.27 yards per carry (62 carries for 389 yards). As a comparison, he averaged only 3.26 YPC in his 10 games prior to that.
More than likely, the Patriots will try to establish the run early against the Broncos in order to keep Manning and the high-powered Broncos offense on the sidelines as much/long as possible, but this game could easily turn into a shootout (over-under for this game is 57).
Both teams have suffered numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball and while I'd love for this game to come down to whichever quarterback has the ball last, I think the Broncos get the better of the Patriots this time around.
Final Score Prediction: Broncos 34, Patriots 27