Meeting No. 17 between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will go to the former, at least according to the odds out of Las Vegas ahead of Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
Brady and the Patriots might be the road team in this encounter, but all signs point to them being healthier, hotter and more likely to emerge the winner.
Bettors won't have it so easy, though, not with Denver boasting home-field advantage, a strong running game, a stronger defense and an unknown variable in Manning, odd as it sounds.
Those looking for an easy betting task missed the boat. It sailed with the conclusion of the regular season.
When: Sunday, January 24, at 3:05 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High; Denver, Colorado
Spread: New England (-3)
Preview and Prediction
Want to know why this matchup is so confusing for bettors?
Here's a taste of two simple stats folks will love to throw out for one side or the other: 1. Brady is 2-6 in games played in Denver. 2. Brady owns top-tier defenses, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
When Tom Brady has faced the NFL's No. 1 defense in the postseason, his teams are 3-0 (all road games) and won the Super Bowl all 3 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2016
This makes the over/under just as tough as the spread and outright winner.
After all, Denver finished fourth in scoring defense at 18.5 points allowed per game. New England quietly sat in 10th at 19.7. Both were rather impressive finishes considering strong offenses meant opposing offenses had to try to create big plays to keep pace.
Still, the over seems like a good idea. This is a Brady who threw for 4,770 yards and 36 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He's got Rob Gronkowski (72 catches, 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns) healthy and Julian Edelman (61, 692 and seven) back in the fold.
This is a Manning who has running backs in Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, who both hit minimums of 720 yards, five touchdowns and 4.2 yards per carry, not to mention a deep receiving cast that even thrived with backup Brock Osweiler under center:
Complicating matters for bettors is a Week 12 matchup in Denver that the Broncos took in overtime, 30-24. As if that extra-frame affair wasn't close enough, keep in mind Brady didn't have Edelman on the field and the Broncos pulled out the win without Manning.
It gets worse. Brady threw a trio of scores. Osweiler looked passable, while Anderson and Hillman helped lift the team to 179 rushing yards and three scores.
The trick to Sunday's contest is figuring out which strength wins out—Brady's aerial assault or Denver's ground game.
Though the Denver defense coughed up three scores against Brady in the first encounter, the team seemed to get some good news from top corner Chris Harris this week, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post:
Harris and the Broncos saw much of what they faced in Week 12 when the Patriots suited up against the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
“We all saw it, they threw on every down,’’ Harris said, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. “They came right out and said this is what we do. And with that offense, Tom Brady, Gronk, all of those receivers, you know they’re going to think that.’’
New England won't try to run the ball often Sunday, clearly. The Broncos know what's coming and knew in Week 12, too, when the defense held the Patriots to a 2-of-13 mark on third down.
With a strong defense, home-field advantage and a starting quarterback under center this time out, bettors who want to take a bit of a risk stand to make a solid profit on the Broncos here.
Manning is an unknown for the most part, but the odds and narratives seem to lean entirely too much on Brady having had a better season. For this game in particular, the Broncos look like the better team overall, and having a version of Manning who can hit all the throws should open things up for the offense.
The over is the only way to go when Brady and Manning get together. Sunday, look for the Broncos to pull away late. A one-dimensional attack only works so well, especially against a defense as strong as Denver's, which has the perfect complementary, ball-controlling offense.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Patriots 24