The New England Patriots are 60 minutes (or more) away from going to their second consecutive Super Bowl and having a chance to defend the championship they won against the Seattle Seahawks.
All they have to do to get there is earn their first postseason win in franchise history in the Mile High City. The Patriots are 0-3 in playoff games in Denver, and two of those losses have been in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
On the surface, the Patriots appear to have much more firepower than the Broncos, because Brady remains at the top of his game, while Peyton Manning has struggled with injuries and ineffective play throughout the season. The Denver passing game is not a huge threat.
That's the primary reason the Patriots are three-point road favorites, according to Odds Shark. However, the Broncos defeated the Patriots 30-24 in overtime in Week 12, and they did it with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in the lineup.
In that game, Osweiler brought the Broncos back from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit, and it seems logical that if Denver falls behind by two touchdowns or more at any time, head coach Gary Kubiak may decide to go with the strong arm of Osweiler instead of Manning.
The Broncos will try to run the ball with Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, and that duo has combined for 1,583 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
|AFC and NFC Conference Championship Games|
|New England at Denver||3:05 p.m.||CBS||NE (-3)||44.5||New England; Under|
|Arizona at Carolina||6:40 p.m.||Fox||Car. (-3)||47||Carolina; Over|
|Odds Shark; Silverman selections|
If Denver is going to find a way to win this game, its top-ranked defense is going to have to contain Brady (4,770 passing yards and 36 touchdowns to seven interceptions) and keep him from having a fully productive game.
The Broncos have an active and aggressive front seven that is keyed by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The latter (11.0 sacks) has the speed to get around the corner or shoot the gaps in the line, while Ware (7.5 sacks) is powerful and aggressive and can wear blockers down when he is on his game.
If those two get constant pressure, the Broncos have a good chance to keep Brady from feeling comfortable in the pocket.
The Patriots defense played well throughout the regular season, ranking ninth in yards allowed. Jamie Collins and Patrick Chung have combined for 174 tackles, while defensive end Chandler Jones has a team-leading 12.5 sacks.
The Patriots have more difference-makers in this game with Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. That should be enough to help them overcome their winless postseason ways in Denver.
The Arizona Cardinals had a brilliant regular season, rolling to the NFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs as a result of their 13-3 campaign.
However, they were not sharp in their 26-20 overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.
Carson Palmer, who had been brilliant in the regular season with 4,671 passing yards and a 35 TD passes, was not on top of his game against Green Bay. He threw two interceptions and several other off-target passes.
If Palmer and the offense don't play one of their best games here, they could have a tough time competing on even terms in this game. That's because Cam Newton is the likely MVP this year as a result of his brilliant season. The numbers are there for Newton with 35 touchdown passes and 10 more touchdowns on the ground.
But more than the numbers, Newton seems to come up with the big play whenever the Panthers need it.
The Carolina defense features the one-two punch of linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, who are both athletic, aggressive and effective defensive players. Cornerback Josh Norman has game-changing ability and will be able to poach any off-target Palmer passes.
The Panthers are three-point favorites at home and should be able to win this game and cover the spread. Look for Carolina to earn a trip to its second Super Bowl with a momentous effort against worthy Arizona.