Following their 27-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots directed all of their focus, as always, to their next opponent. The Patriots gave a top performance against the Chiefs, who let’s not forget were on an eleven game winning streak. Tom Brady threw for 302 passing yards, 2 TD’s (both to Tight End Rob Gronkowski, who now has the most Touch Down receptions by any Tight End in Playoff history), along with one of his famous end zone leaping rushing touchdowns. The defense played fantastic, only allowing six points in the first half, and it seemed like everything for the most part was clicking.
After the game, Bill Belichick went on to talk about the hard work and practice it took leading up to the game, saying “this week of practice was probably one of our best weeks ever in terms of focus and concentration”. So clearly it took lot to defeat the Chiefs, but it was a well earned victory for the Patriots, who seem to back in business.
About 24 hours later the Patriots knew their AFC Championship opponent, a familiar foe in the Denver Broncos, who knocked out the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday with a 23-16 win.
So, the stage is set. It’s Pats/Broncos, Brady/Manning for another time, possibly the last time. Over the course of their careers, Brady and Manning have played each other sixteen times. In those sixteen games, Brady’s won eleven, Peyton’s won five, however in the Playoffs, Peyton’s won three out of their five brawls. Both have had their share of touch downs, and passing yards as well. Obviously Brady’s had the far better postseason career, as he has 4 Super Bowls to Peyton’s 1, but both teams know that none of that matters this week. If the Patriots want to beat Denver in Denver, they have a lot to work on. Here are 5 things I think will be the difference maker if the New England Patriots want to go back to the Super Bowl.
- Pressuring Peyton – A crazy stat you’ve probably heard recently, this season in Mile High Stadium, Peyton Manning‘s thrown only 1 Touch Down, in six games. While Tom Brady’s thrown 3 Touch Downs, in one game. So clearly we know Peyton’s way past his prime, and Brady’s still in his in most ways. Being a Patriots fan, another stat I love is that this season Peyton Manning threw the second most interceptions in the NFL (17) despite only playing in ten games. Again proving my point that this year was easily one of Peyton’s worst. The reason I bring these statistics up is because Peyton’s not the same Peyton. The offensive line hasn’t given him enough time to make a smart play, which most of the time has resulted in an incompletion, or a turnover. With the pass game being so bad, the Broncos will look to the run game, which has been inconsistent all year long, again a big part of that due to the struggling offensive line. So with Denver’s offense being so bad, expect the Patriots defense to put a lot more pressure on Peyton, something the Patriots like to do often. The Patriots defense loves to put pressure on it’s opposing quarterbacks, and they’re gonna have to if they want to stop Denver’s offense from finding any level of success.
- Julian Edelman – Don’t call it a coincidence, but in the games where Julian Edelman’s played, the Patriots are 10-0, including the beatdown they gave last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game in which Edelman had 100 receiving yards, and 10 receptions. It’s no secret that Brady loves having Edelman on his side, seeing as in only nine games, Edelman had 7 touchdowns, 61 receptions, and 692 receiving yards. Besides Rob Gronkowski, those are the best stats by any receiver on the Patriots offense. Edelman’s no question a game changer for the Patriots offense, seeing as he’s usually the center piece of attention for every opposing cornerback. Without Julian Edelman, Tom Brady likely would still only have 3 Super Bowl wins, and probably wouldn’t be on another hunt for a fifth title. If Edelman can put up good looking stats, against a great Denver secondary, the Patriots should win this one easily.
- Special Teams – In the Patriots-Broncos only meeting this season, one MAJOR reason the Broncos pulled away in the end was because of a punt return gone bad, turning into a costly fumble. The Patriots easily could’ve pulled away in that game if it wasn’t for a Chris Harper muffed punt in the fourth quarter. Same thing with New England’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots should’ve easily won that game, but gave up like three touchdowns on Special Teams alone, which of course lead to a loss. Although the Special Team performance’s have improved, it seems to be an area of concern for the Patriots, who can’t afford to make those mistakes if they hope to come out on top of Denver.
- Shutting down Denver’s run game – Another key reason Denver beat New England in their regular season matchup was the explosiveness that was the Denver running game. Broncos running back, C.J. Anderson had over 150 total yards of scrimmage that game, including the break free 48 yard run that beat the Patriots in Overtime. Ronnie Hillman also had a decent day on the ground as well, rushing for 59 yards. Look, we all know how bad Peyton Manning’s been this season, but their defense is good enough to get the job done, with a few scores by the offense. If Denver can execute their run game, New England’s in trouble. I expect that this is the defense’s biggest concern coming into the game.
- Protecting Brady – For years, the New England Patriots have gone as Tom Brady has. When Brady does great, the team follows, and when Brady does bad, the team usually does as well. The Patriots offensive line isn’t the best line we’ve ever seen from them, but it did a decent job last week against Kansas City, and if they want to win this game it’s gonna have to do the same again. Denver leads the league in sacks, so expect them to put pressure on Brady often, but just like everyone else, the offensive line has to DO THEIR JOB. The running game isn’t spectacular, so Brady’s gonna have to throw it a plenty, and if the offensive line can protect him, they should be fine.
If the Patriots can do all of this and then some, they should be well on their way to a trip to Super Bowl 50.