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Patriots at Broncos AFC Championship Pregame Six-Pack
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5. Mother Nature wears orange - This may sound ridiculous, but the biggest factor in this battle for the right to advance to the Super Bowl really has nothing to do with either of the teams. Maybe the most important variable is the weather. And according to forecasts, it's going to be nearly a perfect day in Denver on Sunday. According to the Weather Channel, it will be around 55 degrees with 9 mph wind for kickoff. That makes for perfect day for fans and players alike. It really makes for a great day for Manning. At this point in his career, with very limited arm strength, No. 18 struggles in the cold and wind. That was the biggest factor in his limited contributions against New England back in the regular season in Foxborough. Manning may do a little fist pump when he wakes up on Sunday because his weather wishes have apparently been answered. That should and could give him extra confidence as he prepares to take full advantage of all his passing weapons. Sure, Brady loves to throw in the nice weather, but he has limited weapons right now to take advantage of the pristine conditions. And given that Brady is arguably the best bad-weather quarterback of all time, adverse conditions would have been a big boon to New England's chances. But that doesn't look like it's in the cards. So New England won't have the weather working in its favor as an extra defender. For whatever it's worth, and it could be a lot, apparently Manning has Mother Nature on his side.
6. Count on a Manning collapse? - While Brady opened the week leading up to this big game by assuming that no one would be picking his underdog Patriots to win, that's not exactly true. The more picks we see, there are a few that are going with New England to earn the road upset. And plenty of Patriots fans give their favorite team a pretty good chance of getting the job done on the road in the AFC Championship, as previous Belichick teams have done in the past in Pittsburgh. But it seems that the one factor that everyone includes in the analysis in picking the Patriots is some aspect of Manning choking in the big game. It's almost like more people think that Manning and the Broncos will lose this game every bit as much as the Patriots will actually win it. Certainly there is reasonable history to make that prediction. Manning is 10-11 in his career in the postseason. He's 1-2 against the Patriots/Brady in title games. He has eight career one-and-dones in the postseason, a fate he avoided against last week by holding on to beat the scrappy Chargers. Will Manning melt in the spotlight of another big battle with Belichick and Brady? Maybe. Will I predict it? I just can't. If the Patriots are to win, I'd like to think they make that happen and don't just rely on the failures of the competition.
It only seems right on this championship weekend that we're preparing for another battle between Manning and Brady/Belichick. They lead the best teams in the AFC. It keeps the Welker narrative rolling. It's just fun. That said, I have my doubts that it's going to end the way that Patriot Nation is hoping. The Broncos passing attack in the good weather is a major challenge. And I'm not sure the Patriots are capable of really taking advantage of Denver's banged up defense. No Miller to deal with. That's great. No Gronkowski to take advantage of that. No wind. Not good. Julius Thomas back. Not good. Unfortunately, I think the Broncos are going to be able to throw and run on the Patriots in this one. That balance will simply be too much for Brady and Co. to match. I just don't see New England literally running over the Broncos with Blount and that being enough to pull off the road upset. It's crazy to think that since the kickoff of the teams' first meeting that New England has scored 233 points compared to the Broncos 232, while each team has allowed exactly 161. The numbers aren't supposed to lie, but why do I fear the Broncos attack so much? I just can't get past the weapons, the good weather and the game being played on the road. Put it all together and I think the Patriots impressive seasons comes to an end with a 31-17 defeat at the hands of Manning's Broncos. It will be painful to take and keep New England from another Super Bowl. But hopefully it doesn't make us forget all the resiliency and laudable effort the team put forth during this ever so challenging season. Read