The New England Patriots are set to take on the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Championship. It's a matchup that seems to be getting hyped up a lot more than the NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, and that's likely due to the quarterbacks in play: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Brady and Manning have a storied history, having met on the field 14 times since 2001. Brady has a significant edge, having won 10 of the 14 matchups, but both quarterbacks have gone on to win a Super Bowl after besting the other in the AFC Championship.
The Broncos have been the better team this season, but they did fall to the Patriots during the regular season. That game was also the first time Manning has played Brady while under center for a team other than the Indianapolis Colts. New England won the game at home, 34-31 in overtime.
Meet the Broncos
While New England took the first matchup, the Broncos will have home-field advantage this time. Denver is the No. 1 seed after compiling a 13-3 record on the season. Two of the Broncos' three losses came on the road, while all four of New England's losses came on the road as well.
Denver has the top passing attack in the NFL. The Broncos need to get out to an early lead in this one and not allow the Patriots to establish a running game. Fortunately, the Broncos are possibly the best team in the league at getting out to an early advantage. Of course, that didn't help them in the first meeting this season; Denver took a 24-0 lead in the first half before allowing four consecutive New England touchdowns.
Meet the Patriots
New England has won multiple Super Bowls with Brady at the helm, which is why he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He's led the Patriots to the No. 10 passing offense in the NFL this year, throwing for 255.4 yards per game on average.
But that's not how the Patriots have won games this season. This year, it's been about above-average defense and the rushing attack. New England hasn't had a proper rushing attack in some time, but LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have combined to make something special.
Blount ran for four touchdowns and 166 yards in the team's Divisional round win over the Indianapolis Colts, and Ridley added 52 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Denver is solid against the run, but this matchup has far more depth than just Brady vs. Manning.
Local Takes: Broncos
1) Talib vs. DT
Thomas had the most success of any Broncos WR against press man and that is not saying much. Thomas does not burn. Once he gets into the open field he turns on the speed but it takes him longer to get from 0-60 than it would a T.Y. Hilton. Talib usually struggles against speed. The recipe for tomorrow is to be physical.
Local Takes: Patriots
Richard Hill of Pats Pulpit thinks fans should keep an eye on whether or not false starts are called on Manning in this game. He seems to do the motion that is supposed to invoke that sort of call quite often:
Eagle-eyed readers of Peter King pointed out that Peyton sure likes to do that quite frequently. They were actually reemphasized as "The Manning Rules," even though they were already in the book. The rule was raised prior to 2012 as quarterbacks around the league were getting away with what were clear false starts, under the premise that it was a pre-snap adjustment by the quarterback.
No, Manning isn't the only one who does it, although his Omaha calls were on display this past weekend. I wouldn't expect this rule to become a point of focus this postseason, although I wouldn't be surprised to see it called early on in the game just to set precedence.
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Blount has good vision and better power, but he's a liability in the passing game, and Pats know it. Only lined up 3 passing plays last wk.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) January 18, 2014
SB Nation's panel of six NFL experts was divided on this one. Three picked the Patriots (Ryan Van Bibber, Jason Chilton and Stephen White), while the other three picked the Broncos (Joel Thorman, David Fucillo and Matt Ufford). For the NFC Championship picks, go here.
The line opened with the Broncos favored by 6.5 points, but things have moved throughout the week. Many of the top sites vary on this, with some still having Denver as high as 6.5-point favorites, while others have them favored by as few as 4 points, according to OddsShark.
The Super Bowl! This year's game will be played on Feb. 2 in New York, at the stadium shared by the New York Giants and New York Jets. The winner of this game will face either the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers.