(2) Patriots at (1) Broncos
Patriots: For the fifth straight season, the New England Patriots are in the AFC Title game and are one more win away from reaching their seventh Super Bowl in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era and that is absolutely incredible in this day and age. You can just pencil them into winning the division, getting a first-round bye in the playoffs and getting to the NFL’s version of the final four. A healthy Patriots team is a dangerous Patriots team. The second half of the season wasn’t so kind to the defending champs. Edelman broke his foot so that left Brady without his go to wide receiver, Gronk missed a game with that knee bruise and Amendola was out with a knee injury. All three were back last week for the playoffs and you saw the difference in their offense and when a quarterback has his weapons all on the field at the same time, good things normally happen. Their defense hit a bump in the road when Jerod Mayo was lost placed on IR but knowing how this team operates, the next man will be ready to go. With the win on Sunday, they will be in their second straight Super Bowl and seventh under Belichick.
Broncos: It hasn’t been what we thought we’d see from them, but they won the AFC West once again, they’ve clinched a bye in the AFC playoffs and they’ve clinched the one seed in the conference as well. 12-4 isn’t too bad of a record at all either. Coming into the season, many thought their offense would be at the top of the league once again, especially since Peyton Manning has been under center. The Broncos started 7-0 and that’s because their defense was carrying them and I said for years that when their defense gets right, they will be scary. Peyton goes down with the foot injury and Osweiler comes in and he did a terrific job filling in for a legend. Peyton came back in week 17 to fill in for Osweiler and I was impressed with how he looked. He was able to step into his throws, he had better zip on the football and he moved around really well and most importantly, no turnovers. Last week against the Steelers, he had another good game though his receivers kept dropping the ball and I can’t blame that on Peyton at all. The Broncos are looking to win the AFC for the second time in three years.
Prediction: For the 17th and possibly the final time, we will see two of the greatest ever step on the field. It’s been an absolute honor to watch these games and see greatness. When they last met in week 12, these were two completely different teams. Denver had Brock Osweiler under center and the Patriots were short wide receivers. Now, Edelman and Amendola are both back and Peyton Manning is back under center for the Broncos. The Broncos have become a team where they like to run the football and play smash-mouth, physical defense. It’s key for the defense to amp it up and get the pressure going on Brady. Don’t let him get rid of the ball quickly and make him move around. For the Patriots: load the box, take the run away and make Peyton beat you. Test his arm and his foot early on. I like the Broncos to win the AFC title. Broncos 28 Patriots 23.