It’s only fitting that the 2014 AFC Championship Game comes down to the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. They finished the regular season with the best two records in the conference, and it’s been a few years since Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have met in the playoffs.
Now, perhaps the best quarterbacks of their generation will go head-to-head one more time with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
On the injury front, the Patriots don’t have much to worry about with any key players on offense or defense. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson’s status is up in the air after missing last weekend’s playoff game. He was limited in practice, as was punter Ryan Allen. Allen left the contest with the Indianapolis Colts, following a hit to the shoulder on a botched snap. There is a good chance he’ll play on Sunday, but if he can’t go, kicker Stephen Gostkowski is expected to fill in.
The Patriots are still without Rob Gronkowski, whose season has been over for a while with a torn ACL. In his absence, and against a team that scores more than any in the history of the NFL, the onus falls on the rest of the receiving corps. Julian Edelman has exceeded expectations this year, but Danny Amendola hasn’t been the replacement for Wes Welker like many though he would be. In his last four games, Amendola has just six total catches.
While Gronkowski has been out for a few weeks with an ACL injury, one of Denver’s top players just recently suffered the same fate. Cornerback Chris Harris is done for the postseason after getting hurt last weekend. To provide some more depth in the secondary, the organization has signed Marquice Cole, who played 13 games for New England this season.
The Broncos won’t have it easy in trying to stop Brady and the Patriots offense. The team has lost key members on defense all season, including Von Miller and Derek Wolfe. They will try to outscore New England, as they have done with almost every team this year. Manning lost to his rival two months ago, but he was without one of his top targets. Tight end Julius Thomas was injured, but his 65 receptions and 12 touchdowns will be in the lineup this time around.
Even though this matchup features the top two seeds, and New England already beat Denver this season, the Broncos are a decided favorite. Most Las Vegas casinos have New England as a five-point underdog. However, some places have the betting line as high as six points.
The over/under is at 56 heading into the weekend. The two teams’ scoring averages totaled 65.7 points in the regular season. When they met in Week 12, they went for 65 points.
In the regular season, the Broncos had one of the better records against the spread. They covered 10 of 16 games, including five of eight at home. They failed to cover the spread in their divisional round playoff win against the San Diego Chargers.
The Patriots covered in their playoff win over the Colts. That wasn’t surprising, considering they went 6-2 against the spread at home in the regular season. They had a lot more trouble on the road, though, where they went 2-6.
Denver lost to New England in a close game, but they have been the better team all year. The Broncos are very good at home, and the Patriots struggle on the road. Brady has bested Manning many times in the past, but he usually has the better club. This year, Denver is more talented, and should be able to advance to the Super Bowl.