Following Denver's 23-16 win over the Steelers Sunday afternoon, the stage is set for the Patriots to travel to the Mile High City next Sunday at 3:05 pm for the AFC Championship Game.
Not only will the game be a matchup of the top two teams in the AFC from this season, but the game presents what had at one point seemed like an unlikely chance for another battle of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Brady vs. Manning XVII extends what is arguably the greatest individual rivalry in NFL history, maybe one of the most intriguing in all of sports annals. It's the fourth time the two will meet with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
In the aftermath of his win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, Manning said it's the Broncos against the Patriots and not an individual battle and also stole a line from Bill Belichick saying he and his team were, "On to New England."
The Broncos and Patriots already met once this season, a New England 30-24 loss in overtime. The visitors seemingly had control of the game, leading 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, until a muffed punt by Chris Harper opened the door for the home squad. The game also saw Rob Gronkowski carted off with a knee injury before the Broncos closed out the contest with a 48-yard C.J. Anderson touchdown run in overtime.
But the Broncos quarterback that night was Brock Osweiller. Now, Manning has his job back and one more shot at beating Brady and adding another ring to his record-setting legacy.
For the Patriots, it's the fifth straight January the team has advanced to the AFC title game, tying an NFL record first set by the Raiders teams of the 1970s.
While Manning will be a popular storyline in what has been a trying season that saw him lose his job and battle injuries, Denver is a team led by its defense. The Broncos had the No. 1 defense in the NFL in terms of yards, No. 1 passing defense and No. 3 rush D. The unit ranked No. 4 in terms of points allowed. The Manning-led Broncos offense was middle of the pack, ranking No. 16 in the league overall in terms of yards, including No. 17 rushing and No. 14 passing. The group was only No. 19 in points.
Both the AFC and NFC title games will be matchups to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, as the Panthers will host the Cardinals, as early playoff action once again showed the importance of the bye week to open the postseason as well as home-field advantage in the Divisional Playoffs.
There is a big week of hype and analysis ahead.
But from a superficial standpoint, the entire football world will get one more round of the Brady vs. Manning rivalry.
Brady vs. Manning XVII – likely the final chapter.
Patriots at the Broncos with a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line.
On to Denver.