Nearly two months after Tom Brady and the New England Patriots erased a 24-point halftime deficit to stun the Denver Broncos in overtime, the two AFC heavyweights will meet again, this time with a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line.
Peyton Manning and the Broncos will be favorites on their home field.
But they will have to find a way to beat an opportunistic defense and slow a surging Patriots rushing attack in order to secure a Super Bowl berth for the first time in 15 seasons.
Meanwhile, Brady and the Pats are set to embrace their underdog status as they take aim at their sixth Super Bowl appearance in 12 years.
Below we'll get you ready with everything you need to know ahead of kickoff.
Date: Sunday, January 19, 2014
Start Time: 3 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Live Stream: CBSSports.com
Line: Denver (-5.5) over New England
*according to Covers.com.
Don't Forget About the Running Game
Although it's hard to get past the fact that two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks will be squaring off on Sunday in Denver, the two teams' respective rushing attacks will play massive roles in determining which team marches on.
With the Patriots having lost several key offensive weapons this season, New England established the ground game early on in 2013, ranking inside the top 10 in rushing yards during the regular season.
And in their AFC divisional-round triumph over the Indianapolis Colts, the Pats exploded for 234 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is certainly aware of the Pats rushing prowess, per DenverBroncos.com's Stuart Zaas:
...the thing they really are doing is physically they are getting after people, they’re winning the heading battle in the trenches and running the ball right at people with [RB LeGarrette] Blount doing a large portion of the running, but all of their backs are capable. Good group and we’re getting geared up for it.
But New England's defense can expect to see plenty of handoffs from Denver this weekend as well. After all, the Broncos averaged slightly more than 117 yards per game on the ground during the regular season and racked up 133 rushing yards in their AFC divisional playoff win over San Diego.
Something's Got to Give
It's no secret that Manning has had his fair share of struggles against the Patriots over the years, per ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter:
But while New England has broken No. 18's heart on multiple occasions over the past decade, Brady has his own demons he must overcome in Denver this January. Brady is just 2-4 in his previous six trips to Mile High, even suffering his first-ever playoff loss eight years ago.
With Brady boasting a dismal 2-4 career record in Denver and Manning sporting a 1-2 record against Brady's Patriots in the playoffs, something's clearly got to give this weekend.
And with a Super Bowl berth at stake, the result could have a significant impact on the legacies of both players. A sixth Super Bowl appearance would put Brady in a class of his own. Meanwhile, a third AFC Championship Game victory would have Manning one win away from doubling his title count.
Now, all that's left to do is watch it all unfold.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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