After a disappointing and controversial loss to the Carolina Panthers, The New England Patriots and Tom Brady are heading into a showdown against Peyton Manning and The Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football.
Now I could sit here and regurgitate various stats about the Brady and Manning showdown and the statistical history between them, but what is the point? Does it really matter how Manning played when he was throwing to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne while facing a completely different Patriots team? No it does not. All that matters heading into this matchup is where these two teams, and two quarterbacks are at right now, in this point in time. Now that’s not diminishing the rivalry between the two, they are always both fired up to play against each other. But what Peyton did on the Colts against the Patriots of old does not matter, or vice versa.
In my opinion, which is right, this is a preview of the AFC Championship game.
Wes Welker is coming off a concussion he sustained just a week ago against the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a limited participant in practice Thursday, which is a good sign. Everyone, including myself, would be shocked not to see him on the field Sunday Night.
Julius Thomas was also a limited participant in practice Thursday, as he suffered a knee sprain against the Kansas City Chiefs. His availability is a little shadier than Welker’s, and it would be wise to keep an eye on his status as the week continues. If Thomas is a no go Sunday night it would be a huge break for the Patriots, as Thomas has caught 10 touchdown passes this year. He has been the second most productive Tight End, behind Jimmy Graham this year.
Alfonzo Dennard will likely be sidelined with a knee injury for a few weeks.
Steve Gregory returned to practice with a Clay Matthews type club on his right hand. Gregory is recovering from a broken thumb. Although Gregory has not been cleared to play, he is hopeful he will be back in time for Sunday Night’s game.
Aqib Talib (Hip), Brandon Spikes (Knee), and Rob Gronkowski (Back) are all expected to play Sunday.
The Broncos come in yielding what is one of the best offenses in recent memory. Peyton Manning is having a career and historic year. He is chasing the record for most throwing touchdowns (Brady’s record, 50) and passing yards in a single season (Brees’s record, 5476). Peyton will take advantage of this banged up New England Secondary, and defense in general. Peyton has the most talented group of receiving options in the league in Wes Welker, Demarrias Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Eric Decker. But what makes this offense so remarkable is the fact that not only can they throw the football, they can also run it. Knowshon Moreno has 601 rushing yards and 336 receiving yards this year. He is a duel threat that could really hurt this Patriots Defense. Look for Peyton Manning to carve up the banged up New Englend Secondary and throw for at least 300 yards, and look for a good chunk of those passing yards to be to Wes Welker.
This offense looked sharp last weekend against a talented Panthers Defense, and now they head into a matchup against a less talented Broncos’s defense that gave up 48 points to Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the year. Shane Vereen returning last week may have been one of the major reasons for this. Vereen caught 8 Tom Brady passes for 65 yards. I would consider Vereen the X Factor of this offense. When pressure comes, Brady knows he can dump it off to Vereen and he will make a play, hence the 8 receptions last week. Another key player last Monday was LeGarrete Blount, as he rushed 49 yards on just 10 carries. When Blount gets the ball, there is no pushing him back. Brady also continues to develop chemistry with the young receivers, connecting with Kenbrell Thompkins for 60 yards on two receptions and Aaron Dobson for 32 yards on four receptions. The presence of Rob Gronkowski continues to help both these young receivers, as he draws a lot of attention. But none the less, Brady comes out looking to gash the Broncos’s 22nd ranked passing defense, which he will have to do in order to stay in this game. The offense will need to play fantastic and the defense will need to force a few turnovers. This is something the Patriots Defense has been about in the past few years, this bend not break mentality. The Patriots Defense has forced 17 turnovers this year.
I think this game will be a very close and high scoring game. My gut wants to go with the Broncos, based on their historic offense, but there are a few other key factors that play into this game. The Patriots are playing at home which is huge. The Patriots are 5-0 at Gillette this year. The crowd at Gillette can effect opposing teams, and so can the cold. For most of his career, Peyton has played in a dome. I think the frosty New England weather will effect Peyton Manning. The fact is Tom Brady rarely loses at home, and I think that continues here. Tom Brady and the Patriots beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos 34-31.
The winner of this game will most likely claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs, assuming the Broncos drop one more game and the Patriots win out, which is realistic. And it would be huge for the Patriots to play at home throughout the playoffs, given their success at home this year.
So I ask you guys, who do you have winning this game?