After 19 weeks of nonstop football, we are down to the final four teams left in the playoffs, fighting for a spot to play in Super Bowl 50. On the AFC Side, we have the New England Patriots vs. the Denver Broncos. Here is a breakdown of the matchups, and who I think is going to advance to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots Quarterback, In all honesty one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, Tom Brady has dominated season after season with his ability to throw the ball effectively. Having weapons like Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski does help a lot. Brady already has four rings, and he’s going for ring number five. Never count out the Patriots as long as Brady is starting quarterback. Brady has a strong accurate arm on most of his throws, and for the past few games, he seems to be focusing on short passes for long gains. Brady is not scared to throw the ball deep down the field. Brady has thrown for 4770 yards 36 touchdowns and 7 interceptions this season.
Denver Broncos Quarterback for the Broncos is another quarterback who has the same reputation as Brady, being one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning. This season Manning has produced his worst season statically wise, not throwing the ball the way that we all know Manning to produce. Most of these struggles has been due to him getting up there in age, and bad protection from his offensive line. Manning even got benched for half of the season for Brock Osweiler, due to his injury and poor performance. Even with Manning struggles, he is still one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. He has weapons like Demaryius Thomas and Emanuel Sanders. Manning has thrown for 2,249 yards, 9 touchdowns, 15 interceptions. Apart from this season, Manning has a strong arm and knows how to produce good numbers season after season.
Advantage New England: It is obvious that Brady has the advantage over Manning right here. Brady has put up way better numbers then Manning this season. In the playoffs, Brady is a different type of quarterback. He has shown that he can get the job done over and over again. He’s helped the team make the conference championship game for the fifth straight season, and looking to lead the team to their seventh Super Bowl appearance in the last 16 years.
Denver Broncos Running Backs: This team’s running game is leaded by a two headed monster at running back, with Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson. With Hillman carrying the load, with his speed and his ability to make defenders miss when trying to tackle him. Hillman has rushed for 863 yards, 7 touchdowns, on 207 carries. Anderson is the power back of the two, he uses his power and size to run over defenders on his way to the end zone. Anderson has rushed for 720 yards, 5 touchdowns, on 152 carries. Both running backs have the ability to have a big game, even though both back have completely different running styles.
New England Patriots Running Backs: This season the Patriots running game is like a revolving door. At the start of the season, Dion Lewis was the starting running back, then he got injured for the season. Next up was LeGarrette Blount, who did a nice job as the teams starting running back until he got injured. Now the teams is left with Steven Jackson, who the team just signed a couple weeks ago, Brandon Bolden, and James White. Right now, with the three running backs the team has, Bolden seems to be the guy that leads the pack while splitting snaps with Jackson and White. Ever since Blount and Lewis went down, the running game has not been as effective as it was at first. When Lewis was the starting back, it looked like the team had a running game with Lewis.
Advantage Denver: It is obvious that the combination of Hillman and Anderson, is much better than the competition of Jackson, Bolden, and White. Broncos get the advantage in the run game. New England does not run the ball that much, so that will cause a problem. The Broncos, on the other hand, run the ball the team knows how to balance the passing and running game. If Denver wants to win Sunday, the running game has to be effective.
New England Patriots Wide Receivers: With every great quarterback, there is a good receiving core. The Patriots did not have a deep threat legitimate number one wide receiver since Randy Moss. The team does have receivers that can make an impact during the game, like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The main star of the receiving core is Edelman During the past few seasons, he has broken out in the league as a pretty good slot wide receiver. Edelman this season has 61 catches, 7 touchdowns, for 692 yards. Edelman is not a deep threat, but when he catches the ball he can run for a good long gain. It helps when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game as your quarterback.
Denver Broncos Wide Receivers: The team has two solid wide receivers in Sanders and Thomas for Manning. Thomas is deep threat number one receiver, that every quarterback loves to have. This season, Thomas has 105 catches, 6 touchdowns, for 1,304 yards. His numbers compared to last season, this was a setback. It does not help when you have to deal with two starting quarterbacks all season. Sanders has 73 catches, 6 touchdowns, for 1,135 yards. The main star of the receiving core is Thomas, who has broken out and emerged as a top receiver in the league. Thomas can catch for over 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns every season.
Advantage New England Patriots: Thomas and Sanders have been better than Edelman and Amandola. It also depends on which receiving core has the better quarterback right now, and Edelman and Amandola have a better quarterback in Brady than Thomas and Sanders have in Manning. It is a close matchup to call, but for right now New England takes the advantage.
New England Patriots Tight End: Ever since coming into the league in 2010, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has changed the game for tight ends. This season Gronkowski has 72 catches, 11 touchdowns, for 1,176 yards. Gronkowski is no doubt the best tight end right now in the NFL, putting up double digit touchdown seasons. Gronkowski is the type of wide receiver the team needs, but is a tight end. Gronkowski is a tall tight end, who uses his speed, and power to get past the secondary to get downfield. When healthy, Gronkowski can catch for over 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns.
Denver Broncos Tight End: Acquiring Vernon Davis from San Francisco 49ers at the trade deadline, Broncos fans thought that he would be an upgrade at tight end. Davis has been invisible in the teams offense, catching zero touchdown passes, which is surprising for Davis, with this team Davis has been taking a backup tight end role with Owen Daniels taking the starting job at tight end. This season Owens has 46 catches, 3 touchdowns, for 517 yards. Besides this season, Davis is known to being a good pass catching tight end catching 6 or more touchdowns. Coming off a 13 touchdown season in 2013 season, Davis started to go downhill. Daniels is still a good tight end. Do not underestimate the tight ends in Denver, at any game these two can make a huge impact during the game.
Advantage New England: It is obvious that Gronkowski is ten times better then the both of Broncos tight ends. He is just hitting his prime now, and Gronkowski is one of the top tight end in the league who plays like a wide receiver as a tight end. So it is easy that New England has the advantage over Denver at tight end.
Denver Broncos Defense: Ranked at 1st at defending the pass, allowing 199.6 passing yards per game, and 3rd in stopping the run, allowing 83.6 rushing yards per game, the defense is one of the big reasons why the Broncos have been so successful this season. With players like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, stopping the New England running game should be really easy for the team, since Patriots do not have a running game. The challenge this defense faces is stopping the passing attack, getting pressure on Brady, and stopping guys like Edelman and Gronkowski from making an impact. If the defense can stop the passing attack, and get some pressure on Brady and cover Edelman and Gronkowski well. Broncos will have a good chance of making the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots Defense: Ranked 17th at defending the pass, allowing 240.7 passing yards per game, and 9th in stopping the run, allowing 98.8 rushing yards per game. At points of this season, defense seemed to be the biggest weakness. Last week, the defense showed up vs a tough Kansas City Chiefs team, but the Broncos are better then Chiefs. This game will put this defense to the test. Watch for guys like Donta Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Rob Ninkovich to make an impact on defense and attempt to stop Manning and the Broncos passing attack and the running game.
Advantage Denver Broncos: this defense that the Broncos has is legitimately scary. There is a reason why this team has the number one defense in the AFC right now. Broncos defense has been consistent all season, keeping the team in games. While the Patriots defense had some games late down the stretch, the defense could not keep the team in the game.
Matchup to watch: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning
One of the greatest quarterback rivalries in NFL history. Manning and Brady face off for the 17th time, these two are rivals and almost every game is a close matchup between these two. This one is extra special, since this will most likely be Manning’s last season as Broncos quarterback. The quarterback that outduels the other will have a good chance to lead the team to victory and punch their team a ticket to Super Bowl 50.
Prediction: This is going to be a great game but close to call. New England has a full healthy team right now. The team showcased last week, a full healthy New England team is one of the best teams in the AFC. With Edelman back from his injury, that will be a big factor in this game. Broncos have a solid defense, so this is going to be a tough challenge for the Patriots offense to score points. Manning has a reputation of not getting it done in the playoffs. In my eyes, the Patriots have one of the best teams in the league, and the Broncos barely beat a injured Steelers squad last week. Seeing how the team played in that game, imagine how the team will play against a full healthy New England Patriots squad. Manning will not get it done this Sunday. Patriots will punch their ticket to Super Bowl 50 at the end of the game, going to the franchise’s 7th Super Bowl in the last 16 years and in back to back seasons.