This Sunday, it'll be time for Brady versus Manning 17.
Plenty of pundits and sports fans predicted this match-up for the AFC Championship Game before the season started, but the road here has been anything but predictable. Manning started the year cold, consistently throwing interceptions until head coach Gary Kubiak replaced the then-hobbled Peyton with Brock Osweiler against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 15.
Osweiler subsequently beat the Patriots and went on an impressive run, winning four games and losing two while ensuring the Broncos a playoff spot. Along the way, Manning's foot healed, and he was back under center to finish the last game of the season, a key victory over the San Diego Chargers.
How healthy is Manning? Can he still stand and deliver the game-winning pass if he has to? And who will get the last laugh in the epic Brady-Manning rivalry that started fifteen years ago?
It all makes for a very compelling game — but here are ten reasons why the Patriots are going to win and will be playing in back-to-back Super Bowls:
10. Steven Jackson
The 32-year-old three-time Pro Bowler, who came out of retirement to play this season, will appear in the postseason for the first time in his career and he’s going to leave it all on the field. If Jackson can be the powerful running back he was for eleven years in the league, this could be a Patriots blowout. When a veteran comes back for a swan song to win a championship, he does not lack motivation. Jackson has unfinished business in the NFL and the Broncos are standing in his way.
9. The football gods want it
The Patriots’ drive for five championships has more historical impact than the Bronco’s desperate desire to get their first ring since Elway was in uniform, so luck should be on their side. If Brady and Belichick win an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl together, they will be anointed as NFL gods beyond scrutiny. Brady would finally eclipse his boyhood idol Joe Montana and become the undisputed greatest quarterback of all time. All Manning can hope for is to end the season and his career half as well as the Golden Boy, with two championships to Brady’s four.
8. Beating the Patriots twice in a row is impossible
For most teams, besting New England is equivalent to winning the Super Bowl. The fans freak out, riots ensue and suddenly a franchise has life. It's almost impossible to achieve this goal twice in the same year. Tom Brady was uncharacteristically angry after losing to Denver in dramatic overtime fashion in November. His last two trips to Sports Authority Field ended in defeat, including the loss in the 2013 AFC Championship Game. The third time at Mile High will be the charm for the Patriots.
The 2013 AFC Championship Game lingers in the minds of the Patriots. Aqib Talib was wearing a Patriots jersey, Wes Welker was wearing Broncos orange and blue, and the Broncos beat the Pats 26-16. Gronkowski didn't suit up for that game and the wide receiving corps wasn't as deep as it is now for the Patriots. Unlike last time, Brady has the weapons to win at Mile High and he won't squander that chance.
6. The Patriots want it more
Brady's name has been dragged through the mud. Emmanuel Sanders said the Patriots shouldn’t be awarded last year’s Super Bowl because of Deflategate. With the public backlash Brady received over that scandal fresh in his mind, he watched as the entire country let Manning off the hook for a much more serious allegation: taking steroids. Brady eats that kind of chip-on-your-shoulder stuff for breakfast. Put him down and attack his credibility at your own risk. When Brady’s pissed, he’s the most prolific player in NFL history. That should send shivers down Wade Phillip’s spine, if he can still feel anything after being demolished by Martavis Bryant on Sunday:
5. The Patriots have Bill Belichick
A master of game planning and not a man with whom to cross paths, Belichick goes for the jugular and doesn't let go. His football IQ is off the charts and he and Brady have beaten Manning eleven out of sixteen times. Belichick gets in Manning's head, and he's going to start by taking the running game away, making it Manning's move. Belichick is hungry for a win at Mile High and he'll get it Sunday.
4. The Broncos are punks
This is mainly a reference to Aqib Talib, TJ Ward, and Von Miller. Talib is as immature as they come; he was suspended one game this year for poking Colts tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye and then eviscerating the refs. The Broncos lost by three points largely because of Talib’s antics. If a Patriots player did that, he’d never wear a Patriots jersey again. TJ Ward, the dirtiest player in the NFL, has the IQ of stale bread and dances like an asshat. Von Miller looks more intelligent than Ward with his thick-framed hipster Ray Bans, but he also lacks class. He was caught attempting to buy urine from a urine collector in 2013 to skirt around an NFL drug test. He was suspended six games for the infraction. He’s also the only player I’ve seen who needs oxygen on the sideline after dancing too hard. Is this football or a music video? Karma and the Patriots' mental edge will send the bright orange punks packing.
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3. Peyton Manning
The game will be in Peyton Manning’s gloved hands. The Patriots are experts at taking away an opponent’s strength. At this point, the Broncos' strength is their running game. If the Patriots succeed in shutting it down, it’s going to be up to Manning to throw some TD’s. He didn’t find the end zone once against the Steelers, who don’t have as talented a defense as do the Patriots.
2. The boys are back
Rob Gronkowski exited the November meeting between the two teams with a knee injury, leaving the Patriots a bit deflated (haha) at a crucial time in the game. Julian Edelman didn’t play at all that game, and last week’s Patriots victory over the Chiefs proved what kind of impact he has on the team: he caught ten balls for 100 yards in his first game back since breaking his foot. Linebacker Jamie Collins, the most athletic and possibly the best player on the Patriots defense didn’t play against Denver, either, and he’ll be back for Sunday. Expect a more potent Patriots team to hit the field.
1. They’re the better team
That’s why they opened as 2.5 point favorites and climbing in Vegas, even on the road. The Broncos defense is ferocious. But Brady and Belichick will find a way to put up at least 21 points, especially considering an injured Ben Roethlisberger just hung 339 yards on them. The Broncos secondary looks soft at times. The bigger question is: What can the Broncos offense do when the Patriots take away their running game? That will be up to Peyton Manning, who will suit up for what could be his last game ever.