Sunday’s AFC Championship Game could be the final meeting between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Manning will have an exam on his surgically repaired neck in March, and, should that test indicate Manning has an increased risk of injury to the neck, he could be forced to retire. Thus NFL fans should cherish the 15th meeting between the two quarterbacks this Sunday.
The Broncos opened as five-point favorites with a total of 55 at Bovada.
The Broncos’ offense has been well chronicled this season. Manning likely will win a fifth MVP award after setting NFL records for touchdown passes (55) and yards (5,477), and the Broncos broke the 2007 Patriots’ league record by scoring 606 points.
The Patriots got a good look at that offense in Week 12’s 34-31 overtime victory. Manning led Denver to a 24-0 halftime lead before the New England defense clamped down after intermission. Still, Denver had 412 yards, 28 first downs and was 9-for-18 on third-down conversions. Manning had his worst game of the season, going 19-for-36 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on a very cold night in Foxboro. The Broncos’ offense was missing a key contributor as tight end Julius Thomas sat out with a knee injury. He had 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 scores during the regular season and seven catches for 76 yards in Sunday’s divisional round win over San Diego.
The teams aren’t going to get lucky in terms of weather Sunday, as the temperature is expected to be well above freezing in Denver at kickoff. Manning is 4-7 in his career when the temps are subfreezing at kickoff. However, New England likely can learn plenty about how to slow down Manning and Co. from the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers lost two of three against Denver this season but handed the Broncos their only home loss in Week 15 and didn’t allow more than 28 points in any of the three matchups. In Week 10, a 28-20 Denver win in San Diego, Manning had a big day with 330 yards and four touchdowns. In that Week 15 27-20 loss, Manning threw for 289 yards, two scores and a pick, but Denver finished with only 295 total yards. In Sunday’s 24-17 win, Manning threw for 230 yards (total at Bovada was set at 325.5), his second fewest of the season. He also had two scores and an interception.
The Chargers had one advantage in that coach Mike McCoy was Manning’s offensive coordinator last season. The common denominator in the two regular-season games was that San Diego was able to run the ball and eat clock to keep Manning on the sideline. In the first game, the Chargers rushed 35 times for 131 yards and had possession for 38:03. In Week 15, San Diego rushed 44 times for 177 yards for 38:49 in total possession time.
On Sunday, the Bolts rushed 18 times for 65 yards and had possession just 24:33. Their top back, Ryan Mathews, was limited to five carries and was less than 100 percent due to injury. New England’s rushing game, meanwhile, is rolling and could be the difference. The Broncos are +200 to win the Super Bowl, with the Pats at +450.