Patriots vs. Broncos: AFC Championship 2016 Odds and Over/Under Predictions

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Patriots vs. Broncos: AFC Championship 2016 Odds and Over/Under Predictions
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
Tom Brady has to overcome history to take down the Denver Broncos this weekend.

Las Vegas doesn't have an easy task this week deciding who wins what might be the final encounter between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

The two meet for the 17th time in Sunday's AFC Championship Game when Brady's New England Patriots visit Manning's Denver Broncos.

Should bettors and oddsmakers side with Brady, who seems to have a full cast of weapons around him? Or should they side with Manning, who looks fully healthy for the first time all year, also has a strong cast and plays this one at home?

There's no easy answer. Below, let's look at the how and why behind the odds and come up with predictions.   

Game Details

When: Sunday, January 24, at 3:05 p.m. ET

Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver

Television: CBS

Tickets: ScoreBig.com

Over/Under: 44

Spread: New England (-3)

Odds Analysis

Despite their status as visitors, the Patriots find themselves as the favorites.

It makes a bit of sense. Brady played out of his mind for most of the season, throwing for 4,770 yards and 36 touchdowns while getting just nine games out of wide receiver Julian Edelman and watching as other key pieces struggled with injuries.

The Patriots seemed to return to full strength this past weekend in a 27-20 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. They took down a team coming off an 11-game winning streak behind 10 catches for 100 yards from Edelman and seven grabs for 83 yards and two scores from tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Despite the health and impressiveness, Las Vegas wouldn't dare bump the line any higher. Not only is Manning healthy and backed by an elite defense, but Brady is also just 2-6 in games played in Denver.

"It’s a great football environment. They’ve had some good teams when we’ve played out there," Brady said on WEEI sports radio (h/t ESPN.com's Mike Reiss). "I didn’t realize we were 2-6, but the crowd gets into it. … We’ve had a lot of close games there. I think it always comes down to something at the end."

That something could be clutch play from Manning, who showed he was healthy in Denver's final game of the regular season. It earned him the start against the Pittsburgh Steelersa 23-16 win last weekend. He went 21-of-37 for 222 yards and got 109 rushing yards and a score from his ground game.

Whether it's Manning or Brock Osweiler under center, the offense figures to continue to revolve around lead backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. The former rushed for 72 yards and a score on just 15 chances against the Steelers.

Anderson also came up big in a Week 12 win against these same Patriots, posting 113 yards and two scores on the New England defense in the 30-24 home victory. Hillman added 59 yards and a score, taking the pressure off the backup, Osweiler.

Some might point out that the Broncos aren't favorites at home mostly because they didn't look all that impressive against a Steelers team missing wideout Antonio Brown. For the Broncos, though, playing in close games is a good thing.

"I’ve been saying, of course you want to blow somebody out once in a while," linebacker Von Miller said, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. "I think we’re battle-tested, and I’ve been telling everybody, when it gets hot, we just play."

The over/under makes perfect sense despite the big-name quarterbacks. Miller's defense finished fourth in scoring by allowing just 18.5 points per game. Albeit quietly, New England wasn't far behind in 10th place at 19.7.

Prediction

If there's a defense capable of keeping pace with the New England attack, it's Denver's versatile front.

Edelman's being a go for the rematch is a problem, yes, but Denver at least knows what's coming now that the Patriots have to turn to Steven Jackson in the backfield.

On the flip side, Denver continues to run the ball well and didn't have any problems using the one-two punch to control the clock for more than 36 minutes in the first encounter. This time, though, it's a healthy Manning under center instead of a backup.

It's hard to ignore Brady's record in Denver. The Broncos have Manning back, a proven ground game and the advantage at home. Manning's going to lead a comeback late while his running game and defense do most of the work.

Prediction: Broncos 27, Patriots 24

Stats courtesy of NFL.com and accurate as of January 19. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football FocusAll betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.

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