When the New England Patriots travel to the mountains of Colorado to play the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Championship, the majority of the focus will be on the battle between starting quarterbacks.
New England’s Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning have become very familiar with each other over the years—Sunday’s title game will be the 15th meeting between the legendary QBs—but there will be more than a trip to the championship on the line.
One of these men will cement their legacy as the greatest of an era.
Whether it’s Brady proving without a doubt that he is the better clutch quarterback in the postseason or Manning proving that he can lead another team to the Promised Land, Sunday’s AFC Championship promises to be one of the most intriguing games of the season.
Here is all the vital viewing information for Patriots vs. Broncos, a full preview and the predicted final score.
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
When: Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m. ET
Live Stream: CBS Sports Live
New England Patriots (12-4) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
On paper, there is no comparison between the offensive units for the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. While Brady and Manning are evenly matched, the talent around them heavily favors the Broncos.
The Patriots had a breakout game on the ground in the divisional round, racking up an astounding 234 yards against the Indianapolis Colts led by LeGarrette Blount’s 166 yards rushing.
As well as New England ran the ball, Denver’s defensive unit stepped up against the San Diego Chargers last weekend and only allowed 65 total yards on the ground all day. Blount is a more physical runner than the Broncos faced against San Diego, but the front seven for Denver is definitively shutting down opposing running backs right now.
With the Patriots forced to go back to the air, the focus will once again be on Brady vs. Manning.
Peyton’s older brother Cooper Manning spoke to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News about what playing Brady means to his sibling:
They have a great history, and I think every fan of football likes to see that matchup. I’m not sure either one of them likes the idea of playing against each other, but that’s how the NFL works. The best two teams in the AFC face off. They know each other well, they are good friends, they love to compete. It’s going to be a good day. I think Peyton kind of tries to keep a pretty level head no matter who he is playing. I think he tries to look at the big picture, look at the defense, as opposed to the quarterback versus quarterback. A lot of people can make a lot of fuss about it.
The questions remain about whether or not Manning will be able to take advantage of the offensive mismatches his team has or if he will choke under the pressure and cost his team the chance at a Super Bowl berth.
Manning has been statistically lights out in the postseason during the first three quarters, but as ESPN the Magazine pointed out on Twitter, he has struggled to close out games:
The difference in 2014 is that the Broncos have surrounded their franchise QB with weapons like wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, tight end Julius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno.
Injuries have taken a toll on the Patriots offense—Rob Gronkowski (knee) is out for the season and skill players wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Shane Vereen missed portions of the regular season—and the lack of chemistry and momentum will cost the team in crunch time.
While the Broncos have the better overall team and the inside lane to a victory in the AFC Championship, NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano points out that the winner of these battles goes on to do big things:
The latest chapter in the Brady vs. Manning saga could be the most interesting yet.
Predicted Final Score: Denver 28, New England 24
*All stats via NFL.com.