AFC Championship: Who Has The Edge?

After a long week of waiting, it is finally Friday, meaning that the AFC Championship game is in sight, as the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos prepare to do battle this Sunday.

As a final “matchup breakdown”, I will give an edge to each group of players on each side, based on past performance, and how I think they match up against each other.

Dec 29, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms up before the start of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks

For the 15th time, two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time will be sharing the field, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Both are terrific signal callers, and you really can’t go wrong with either one of them. But in the playoffs, I will always go with number 12. He is 18-7 in his career in the postseason, he has three Super Bowl rings, and when you need someone to deliver you a win in January, Brady is your man.

Advantage: New England

Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Running Backs

Over the last couple of years, this matchup hasn’t had a big focus on the running game. Generally speaking, both teams came into the game with high powered offensive attacks, that revolved around the passing game. That is once again true with the Broncos, as they set all kinds of records in that department this year, but the Pats have turned to a power running game as of late, which has propelled them to the AFC Championship game. LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley have been just incredible over the last couple of games, as their combination of power, speed, and agility makes it incredibly tough for defenses to corral them. This goes without mentioning Shane Vereen, who can be a lethal force in both the running game, and the passing game. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are solid backs, but New England definitely has the edge in this area.

Advantage: New England

Dec 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos receiver Eric Decker (87) stands on the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

This is where Denver begins to flex their offensive muscle. The stable of receivers they have is extremely impressive, and they have a good tight end to go along with it. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are great outside receivers, and we all know about Wes Welker, and what he can do on the inside. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are good wideouts, but Denver has a deeper wide receiver group, not to mention the big gap in talent at the tight end position.

Advantage: Denver

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos center Manny Ramirez (66) signals prior to the snap against the San Diego Chargers during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line

This one is tough. On one hand, you have a Denver group that gave up the fewest sacks in the league, and on the other side you have a unit that is just demolishing people on the ground. The Pats have struggled to protect Brady this year, although the addition of the running game lately has helped them keep their quarterback upright. Being able to run the football is very important in the playoffs, but at the same time, I think protecting your quarterback is just as important. We’ll give this one a tie.

Advantage: Push

Dec 29, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) celebrates after New England stopped the Buffalo Bills on a fourth down during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

With no Von Miller in the fold, this is a landslide for the Patriots. Chandler Jones leads a New England front four that finished the year fifth in the league in sacks, while Denver checks in at 13th. Rob Ninkovich doesn’t have the talent of a Jones, but he is a proven veteran, and whenever New England needs a play to be made, Ninkovich will come up big. Now I know that they struggled to stop the run throughout the year, but the addition of Sealver Siliga seems to have stabilized the middle, and when you combine that with the pass rushing talent New England has, I think the Pats win this one by a sizable margin.

Advantage: New England

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

This is another tough decision, and another one that is affected by injuries at the position. If Jerod Mayo and Brando Spikes were healthy, I would give the edge to the Pats hands down. With that being said, I think the emergence of Jamie Collins in the middle really helps the Pats’ case, as he is a guy that might be able to slow down Julius Thomas. Dont’a Hightower is the leader, and while he struggles in pass defense at times, he is a solid overall linebacker. Denver has a solid group as well, led by Wesley Woodyard, and Danny Trevathan. I don’t see a big edge either way here, so I’ll give this one a tie as well.

Advantage: Push

Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) and New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) jump for a pass during fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary

Chalk up a huge win for New England in this area, as I feel that this is a group that could make a huge impact on the game, in a positive way, for the Patriots. The last time these two teams met, Aqib Talib won the battle against Demaryius Thomas. Thomas made a few late plays, but catching only four balls for 41 yards is definitely a win for Talib. The fight that will go on between Decker and Alfonzo Dennard will be a fun one, as I think Dennard has more than enough man to man talent to beat him, but Decker’s size might result in a few big plays for number 87. Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan should be able to battle in the slot, and they all have one of the safeties in the league backing them up, in Devin McCourty. Meanwhile the Broncos will be playing without their best cornerback, Chris Harris, which places a lot of pressure on the rest of the Denver secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can hold his own on the outside, but I’m not sold on him in the slot, and I really am not sold on Quentin Jammer, or Kayvon Webster anywhere on the field.

Advantage: New England

Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Trindon Holliday (11) runs onto the field before the start of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams

Two of the best kickers in the league will be going at it this weekend, as in my opinion, Stephen Gostkowski and Matthew Prater both deserved Pro-Bowl spots. New England gets the edge in the punt return game, as they will have Edelman doing those duties, but the Broncos win the kick returns, with Trindon Holliday waiting in the end zone. If Ryan Allen is healthy, the Patriots will have a clear edge in the punting battle, which is huge in determining the field position throughout the game. But in the end, the potential of Holliday’s explosive kickoff returns is the difference, as the Broncos get the edge in special teams.

Advantage: Denver

Topics: AFC Championship, LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady

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