This Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos marks the 17th matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. However, Sunday’s matchup will not merely be about just two quarterbacks. Both quarterbacks will need a complete team effort if they hope to earn a trip to Super Bowl 50.
The quarterback is the most important position on the football field. So that will be the first matchup discussed, despite the previous emphasis on team output. Both Brady and Manning are first ballot Hall of Famers and Super Bowl Champions. But who has the advantage? In my opinion, the New England Patriots have the advantage at quarterback despite Denver’s spectacular front seven, which has only given up 18 points per game, fourth best in the league. Tom Brady simply has had Peyton’s number. Brady is 11-5 against Manning in his career and he has all of his weapons back on the field. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola did not play in New England’s regular season matchup with Denver. In fact, even Rob Gronkowski did not play in the fourth quarter due to the knee sprain he suffered. Bottom line, I am taking Brady over Manning in the playoffs. Brady’s 22-8 postseason record is far superior to Manning’s 12-13 record.
Passing Game Advantage
The Patriots passing game will also have an advantage if Edelman can work out the kinks in the short game. He dropped a couple balls in New England’s divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs that he normally catches. I believe New England has the advantage because the short slant routes that Edelman and Amendola run are hard to cover. They cannot be doubled because the extra men are reserved for Gronkowski. Brady also releases the ball so quickly that he does not give the defense a chance to make a play most of the time.
Rushing Game Advantage
The ground game on the other hand is a different story. The Broncos have the clear advantage when it comes to running the football. I can assure you that Bill Belichick has not forgotten about C.J. Anderson’s explosive 48-yard touchdown run that sealed the game for Denver in week 12. Anderson burned the Patriots for 113 yards and two scores, the second of which ended their perfect season. The Broncos rushing attack will be a major key in this game. It will give Manning a break from passing the ball on every down. Brady will not be given this same break due to the fact that he lost his top two rushers- Dion Lewis and LeGarrett Blount- earlier this season.
Denver also has a clear advantage when it comes to the defensive side of the football. It is no secret that Denver has the number one ranked defense in the NFL. The Broncos are great against the run, pass and they bring a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They are very dangerous. The injured offensive line of the Patriots has been playing musical chairs as far as their roster positions are concerned. They will definitely have their hands full against Denver’s dominant front seven.
Special Teams Advantage
Normally I would give the special teams advantage to the Broncos, but I am going to give the nod to the Patriots due to the return of Edelman. I am interested if Belichick will have the pro ball slot receiver return punts in Sunday’s matchup. That is one area where the Patriots have really missed him.
All of the matchups discussed clearly point toward the possibility of a close game. And why wouldn’t it be? It is Manning and Brady for possibly the last time. My final pick is that Brady escapes the Mile High Stadium with a 28-24 victory.