AFC Championship Tale: New England Patriots At Denver Broncos
- QuarterbackThe New England offense had new life in the win over Kansas City with the return of wideout Julian Edelman. The super-quick Edelman has the ability to get open right off the line of scrimmage, and Tom Brady was able to hook up with him 10 times. When Brady has options, he is capable of surgically dissecting any opponent with his accurate passing.The Broncos have decided to go with Peyton Manning thus far in the playoffs, but he is just a shell of himself at this point. If the Broncos fall behind here, it would not be a shock if head coach Gary Kubiak benched him and replaced him with Brock Osweiler. Manning’s ability to read defenses remains intact; but his arm has lost its zip. His 9-17 TD-interception ratio was well-earned.
- OffenseTight end Rob Gronkowski seemed to benefit from the return of Edelman as much as anybody, as he caught two TD passes against Kansas City. However, Edelman’s return also benefited Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell. What the Patriots don’t have is a running attack, as veteran running back Steven Jackson had just six carries. That’s not likely to change against Denver.The Broncos have to establish a running game if they are going to win because Manning can’t do it on his own. While Ronnie Hillman is a decent back and listed as the starter, C.J. Anderson is the quicker and more effective runner. Wideout Demaryius Thomas has size and strength, while Emmanuel Sanders has the quickness to make big plays. Tight end Owen Daniels can be an X-factor if he can get open.
- DefenseThe Patriots have had a strong year on the defensive side of the ball, and they ranked ninth overall in yards allowed. Strong safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Logan Ryan were active and aggressive vs. Kansas City with nine tackles each. Chandler Jones had a sack and a forced fumble, and he can be a game changer. Cornerback Malcolm Butler has become a shutdown corner this season.The Broncos have been the top defensive team in the league from start to finish this year, and there’s heavy pressure on that unit since the offense has been so ineffective. Von Miller is a dominating pass rusher who had 11.0 sacks this year while former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware had 7.5 sacks. Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are two of the best tacklers in the league.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots had a few gaffes on special teams that cost them during the regular season, but this area is normally a strength. Matthew Slater is one of the best cover men in the league, while placekicker Stephen Gostkowski connected on 33-of-36 FG attempts, including 4-of-5 from 40-plus yards.The Broncos have done a decent job on special teams this season, but they suffered a tough blow in the divisional playoffs when they lost return specialist Omar Bolden to a knee sprain. PK Brandon McManus made 35-of-36 FG attempts this season.
The Patriots are 0-3 in postseason games at Denver all-time, and 0-2 in the Bill Belichick-Brady era. If the Pats don’t lose the turnover battle by three or more, that should change this time around. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports