Denver Bronco fans, enjoy Peyton Manning while you can in the AFC Championship game in Denver.. Surely the 39-year-old QB won't be back next season. So this will be his farewell performance. Denver won't be going to the Super Bowl this year. New England will see to that.
Here are six reasons why the Patriots will win:.
Reason No. 1: Peyton Manning isn't Peyton Manning any more. He's a shell of the great QB he used to be. That gunslinger arm is more like a wet noodle now. He's not accurate beyond 15 yards. He's not a passing TD threat any more. These days, he throws more picks than TD passes. His INT total, 17, was second worst in the NFL during the regular season. In the past three games he hasn't had a completion longer than 34 yards. Defenses crowd the line of scrimmage against Denver because there is no deep threat, making it much easier to stop the Bronco offense. In their win over the Steelers last week, the Bronco receivers made things worse by dropping seven passes. Manning's famed skill at reading defenses is still intact, but he can no longer execute like he once did. He's just a game manager now, and more of a liability than an asset.
Reason No. 2: The Patriots have their main receivers back. When Denver beat the Patriots 30-24 in OT on Nov 29, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were hurt and Rob Gronkowski went down late in the game, so QB Tom Brady had no weapons in OT. This time Brady is fully armed. No team can adequately cover the best clutch receiving corps in the NFL. Denver won't be able to do it. The Patriots lack a scary running attack because of injuries, but that doesn't matter. That Patriot passing game will be enough.
Reason No. 3: The Patriots have a considerable edge in coaching, with Bill Bilichick towering over Denver's Gary Kubiak. Coaches are responsible for assorted adjustments and strategies during the course of a game. Nobody is better at that than Belichick.
Reason No. 4: The Bronco defense is overrated--very good but not in a class with the great Ravens' defenses or the Seahawks defenses that carried Seattle to back-to back Super Bowls. Last week, without super receiver Antonio Brown, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger, limited by a bum throwing arm, torched the Bronco secondary for 339 yards. What do you think a healthy Patriot passing attack will do to that secondary?
Reason No. 5: To beat the Patriots, Denver will need turnovers--lots of them in key situations. That's not likely to happen. New England led the league with just 14 turnovers. In the last four games, the Patriots have turned the ball only three times.
Reason No. 6 : The Patriots' superior offensive line, which is among the best at pass-protection, will slow down the Broncos' vaunted pass rush and give Brady time to throw. In the second half of the season, the Denver pass rush, ferocious in the first half, hasn't been nearly as effective. The only way to stop Brady is with a killer pass rush. Downgraded to merely very good, the Denver pass rush won't get the job done against the Pats' offensive line.
In betting terms, the Patriots are favored by three. But the game is essentially a pick 'em. Denver gets three points for playing at home, which wipes out the Pats' three-point edge, evening things up.
Smart money, though, is on New England.