The narrative surrounding Sunday’s AFC Championship between the Patriots and Broncos involves the 17th lifetime meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. New England is seeking its seventh Super Bowl appearance in the Brady/Bill Belichick regime since 2001, while going for a league record ninth Super Bowl trip. However, the Patriots need to clear the hurdle of winning at Sports Authority Field where they haven’t had much success over the years.
New England has lost five of its last six visits to Denver since 2005, including a 30-24 overtime setback in Week 12. The Broncos handed the Patriots their first loss following a 10-0 start, asGary Kubiak’s team erased a 21-7 fourth quarter deficit, capped off by a 48-yard touchdown run by C.J. Anderson less than three minutes into overtime. Manning didn’t suit up for that victory, as backup quarterback Brock Osweiler threw for 270 yards and a touchdown with substandard weather to deal with (snow flurries). In spite of Brady’s poor record in Denver, the four-time Super Bowl champion racked up 280 yards and three touchdown passes in the defeat.
The Patriots closed the regular season with losses in four of their final six games, but put things together in last Saturday’s 27-20 divisional round victory over the Chiefs. New England cashed as six-point favorites thanks to jumping out to 21-6 third quarter lead. The Pats relied on Brady and the air attack, attempting 42 passes and racking up 302 yards through the air. New England attempted only 14 rushes, compared to 32 carries by Kansas City, as the only touchdown on the ground by the Pats came on a Brady quarterback sneak.
The Broncos didn’t have it as easy against the banged-up Steelers last Sunday, needing a late Anderson touchdown plunge to give Denver a 20-13 advantage with three minutes remaining in regulation. Each team exchanged field goals late as the Broncos held on for a 23-16 win, as Denver pushed as seven-point favorites. Denver kicked five field goals, as Manning’s last touchdown pass came at Indianapolis back in Week 10. Anderson has been the key to this Broncos’ offense lately by averaging 80 yards the last three games on the ground, while reaching the end zone in each of those victories.
New England is playing in its fifth straight AFC Championship, winning three times at Gillette Stadium in this span with the lone loss coming at Denver in 2013. The Patriots have lost their last two AFC title games on the highway, while being the first road favorite in the AFC Championship since routing Pittsburgh in 2004 as three-point chalk, 41-27. The Broncos are listed as an underdog in the playoffs for the first time with Manning at quarterback, while Denver won and covered in both home ‘dog opportunities this season against Green Bay and New England.
Denver ranked #1 in the NFL in total defense while New England finished 9th and both teams also had top 10 scoring defenses on the season. The Patriots wound up with pretty similar numbers to last season’s championship team, actually slightly better than the 2014 team in total defense and significantly better against the run. Denver had a historically great defense this season sitting at the top of the league in many areas and Manning has to feel good about his chances considering he went to the Super Bowl two seasons ago with a defense that allowed 70 more yards per game and nearly a touchdown more per game compared with this season’s team.”
Each of the last four AFC Championship games have finished ‘under’ the total (all involving the Patriots), as the losing team has not scored more than 20 points in this span. Favorites have posted a 6-1 SU and 5-2 ATS record in the last seven AFC title contests with the only underdog to win outright in this span being the 2012 Ravens, who upset the Patriots as eight-point ‘dogs, 28-13.
From a totals perspective, the Broncos have cashed the ‘under’ in six of nine games at Sports Authority Field this season, including in last week’s comeback win over the Steelers. The Patriots have sailed ‘over’ the total in five of eight road contests, while hitting the ‘over’ in four consecutive playoff games.
The Patriots opened as a three-point road favorite when this matchup was announced last Sunday, but has inched up to -3 ½ at several books. New England has settled back to -3 at many outlets, while the total is listed at 44 ½ at a majority of books. The game kicks off at 3:00 p.m. EST from Denver and can be seen nationally on CBS.