Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
Future Hall-of-Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady could be squaring off for the last time and, appropriately, a Super Bowl berth is on the line when the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots on Sunday. Brady carries an 11-5 advantage into the 17th career meeting between the two best quarterbacks of their generation, but Manning won the last postseason matchup in January 2014.
The second-seeded Patriots lost at Denver in overtime in Week 12 and dropped their final two regular-season games to give the Broncos home-field advantage, but they rebounded to end Kansas City’s 11-game winning streak with a 27-20 victory last week. “It’s pretty hard to get to this point,” Brady said. “There’s only four teams standing. Two of these teams have to go home. Hope we’re not one of them.” Denver capitalized on a late turnover to score 11 points in the final three-plus minutes for a 23-16 victory over sixth-seeded Pittsburgh last week. Manning, who did not play in the earlier meeting with New England, made his first start since Nov. 15 in last week’s victory.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (13-4): Slot receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the last game in Denver, returned from a two-month injury absence and provided an immediate spark to New England’s offense with 10 receptions for 100 yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski shook off knee and back ailments to grab seven passes for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns as New England had just seven rushing attempts from its running backs. Brady threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns in November but was missing both Edelman and Danny Amendola while Gronkowski was carted off the field with just under three minutes to play in regulation. The Patriots were second to Denver in the regular season with 49 sacks but lost starting linebacker Jerod Mayo to a shoulder injury.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (13-4): Manning, who threw only nine touchdown passes versus 17 interceptions during the regular season, finished 21-of-37 for 222 yards in last week’s win for Denver, which was limited to four field goals before finally getting in the end zone with 3:04 to play. C.J. Anderson has come alive down the stretch, rushing for 240 yards over his last three games while averaging a healthy 6.2 yards per carry. Emmanuel Sanders, who had five receptions for 85 yards last week, made nine catches for 113 yards in the first matchup with New England. The Broncos led the league with 52 sacks and also ranked No. 1 in passing yards (199.6) and total yards against (283.1).
1. New England is bidding for its ninth trip to the Super Bowl, which would break a tie with Pittsburgh and Dallas for the most all time.
2. Denver, which is 7-2 at home in AFC title games, can tie the Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys for most Super Bowl appearances with a victory Sunday.
3. Brady’s 22 postseason wins are the most by any quarterback in league history.
LINE: Patriots -3
PREDICTION: Broncos 23, Patriots 20