The second-seeded New England Patriots (13-4) will visit the top-seeded Denver Broncos (13-4) in a rematch of their Week 12 regular-season matchup that decided home-field advantage for Sunday's AFC Championship Game. The Patriots suffered their first loss of the year at Denver 30-24 in overtime as 2.5-point road favorites, but they have won five of the past seven meetings both straight up and against the spread and own an 11-5 mark versus Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Point spread: The Patriots opened as 2.5-point favorites; the total was 45 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).
NFL pick, via Odds Shark computer: 27.0-14.8 Broncos
Why the Patriots can cover the spread
As the defending Super Bowl champion and a four-time winner of the big game, New England has the experience of knowing exactly what it takes to get there. There is no better combination in NFL history than head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who used all of the Deflategate talk during the offseason to motivate himself and his teammates in leading the Patriots to a 10-0 start.
The Patriots fell 30-24 in overtime at Denver the last time they faced the Broncos on November 29. However, wide receiver Julian Edelman did not play in that game due to a broken foot, and tight end Rob Gronkowski was out with a torn ACL when Denver won 26-16 in the 2014 AFC Championship Game. The last time the teams met when the Patriots were fully healthy, they won 43-21 as three-point home underdogs in Week 9 of 2014.
Why the Broncos can cover the spread
The Broncos are one of the few teams that can defeat Brady because of their strong defense. They ranked first in the league with 52 sacks during the regular season (New England was second with 49) and were able to take down Brady three times in the first meeting. They also have an outstanding secondary led by former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who had three interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns.
While Manning is not the same player he was two years ago when he broke the NFL single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns, he does know the New England defense well from his time in Denver and with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning did not play in the earlier game between the teams either, with Brock Osweiler starting in his place due to a foot injury, so he should have plenty of motivation to win one more against the Patriots before possibly retiring at the end of the season.
The Broncos have won 15 of their last 18 home games, and they are a perfect 5-0 SU and ATS in their past five as underdogs of three points or less. Combine that with the fact that New England has gone just 1-5 ATS in its last six road games, and the home team becomes a tempting pick. Ride Manning and Denver to pull off the upset.
The Patriots are 5-2 SU and ATS in their last seven games against the Broncos.
The Broncos are 15-3 SU in their last 18 games at home.
The Patriots are 1-5 ATS in their last six games on the road.
The Patriots are 19-8 SU in their last 27 games as road favorites.