The AFC Championship Game will be yet another duel between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning when the New England Patriots travel to Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Jan. 19.
With how the quarterback position is changing in the modern NFL with more dynamic athletes, these two legends are still sitting in the pocket and picking defenses apart.
ESPN Stats & Info provides some good context that suggests this should be a thriller to decide who will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII:
Tom Brady has 26 TD and 12 INT in the 14 previous games going up against Peyton Manning's team. Manning has 29 TD & 20 INT in those games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2014
8 of the 14 Manning-Brady games have been decided by 7 or fewer points, including 6 of the last 7— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2014
Part of what makes an epic game like this even more exciting are the odds and picking against the spread. Based on the history of these Brady-Manning duels, it's safe to presume it will be a close one that will make bettors' palms sweaty.
With the brilliance under center that will be on display, big plays could happen at any moment. That should create a ton of intriguing props to add some spice to an already amazing matchup.
Let's take a look at the latest betting information and distinguish the props that are worth wagering on, along with a brief preview and early prediction for the outcome with regard to the spread.
Note: Odds information is courtesy of BetOnline.com.
When: Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. EST
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo.
Spread: Broncos (-4)
Moneyline: New England +180, Denver -210
Odds Analysis and Spread Prediction
The boundary line for total points (55) in this game makes sense given the caliber of quarterbacks, but what has stood out is the effectiveness of both the Broncos and especially the Patriots running games.
Knowshon Moreno has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber No. 1 back this season, and he logged 23 tough carries for 82 yards and a touchdown in the 24-17 divisional playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Rookie Montee Ball also pitched in with 52 yards on 10 carries of his own, providing Manning with the necessary balance to overcome a determined San Diego defense.
But most noteworthy has been the explosion of LeGarrette Blount for New England. He ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the Pats' romp over Indianapolis this past week. Stevan Ridley is also a solid back when he's not fumbling, and Shane Vereen is a lethal receiving threat out of the backfield.
Blount didn't drop off after an amazing Week 17 when he ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills. That makes the Patriots all the more terrifying to play in the postseason.
Hurting Denver's cause—and suggesting the point spread will tip to the "over" side—is that its top cornerback, Chris Harris, tore his ACL this past Sunday, per Lindsay Jones of USA Today:
Fears confirmed: Torn ACL for Broncos CB Chris Harris.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) January 13, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info gives an idea of how much Harris' impact will likely be missed, if the rest of the season has been any indication:
In 990 snaps with Chris Harris on the field, DEN allowed a 43.6 QBR. In 81 snaps with Harris on the sideline, DEN allowed a 93.0 QBR— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2014
How will Sunday's game play out?
When these teams last met in Week 12, the score was knotted at 31 at the end of regulation. Wunderground.com projects a sunny forecast of 45 degrees, meaning the elements shouldn't be much of a factor, either.
Thus, this should be another shootout, with Harris' absence helping to offset that of tight end Rob Gronkowski's, who was a key contributor in the Pats' comeback 34-31 overtime victory over Denver.
In any event, this game should come down to the final possession—a place where Brady has thrived time and again in the playoffs and Manning has not.
Brady is already relishing the underdog label, per CSNNE.com's Tom E. Curran:
...No one’s gonna pick us to win this week. We’ve had our backs against the wall for a while, really the whole season. We’ve lost players and teams have really counted us out. We’ve got a bunch of underdogs on our team and we’ll be underdogs again. We’ll see how that shakes out at the end of the week. But we’re as tough and physical as we’ve ever been and we’re gonna go out and play this game and that’s a great challenge for us to...go in there and try to beat ‘em.
The weight of a record-breaking regular season has to be weighing on the Broncos signal-caller, and between Harris' injury and New England's physical rushing attack, Manning will have to put up a lot of points to win this one.
A big advantage Manning has is the supporting cast at his disposal, but he only managed 6.39 yards per attempt in the divisional round against the Chargers' 29th-ranked pass defense.
Somehow the Patriots have overcome numerous injuries and have reinvented their offense on the fly to become a legitimate juggernaut once again. They will cover the spread, pull off the win outright at Mile High and advance to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Prediction: Patriots (+4), win outright 30-27