coleryan Posts:12149 Followers:20
On 01/13/2014 06:17 AM in NFL

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

The AFC Championship will feature two of the best quarterbacks that have ever played the game. This will be a game between two very talented teams, but the storyline will be the battle of the future Hall Of Fame quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have had a long storied rivalry and it will add another chapter as they meet on the field for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Read more Here

Check back all week as this thread will be updated on a regular basis with information on this game and a free pick by gameday!

  • Last 7 Days Record: 5-5-0
coleryan Posts:12149 Followers:20
01/14/2014 05:11 PM

Patriots at Broncos minus-6.5: With the Broncos leading 17-0 heading into the fourth quarter Sunday, the offshore books opened the Broncos minus-6.5 for the AFC title game, which was odd to see on the Don Best screen as the teams weren't even listed because the game wasn't officially determined. (Note: If the Chargers had rallied to win, all bets on the NE-DEN game would have been ruled no-action and refunded.)

The MGM was the first to open in Vegas, at minus-6.5 after the Broncos, who had seen their lead cut to 17-7, went back up 24-7. When the Broncos finally disposed of the Chargers, the LVH also opened 6.5, but it took less than 20 minutes for just about all books to be down to Broncos minus-6, and the Patriots money continued to pound the number down to 5.5 and 5. The offshore book 5Dimes was the first to go to 4.5, but, as of Monday morning, the consensus line is looking like Broncos minus-5. Those Patriots plus-6.5 and plus-6 lines might not be seen again, and I think Broncos minus-4.5 will be the lowest we see. The over/under has been far less volatile, as it's been a pretty solid 55 since the openers with just a few stray 54.5s and 55.5s out there.

Happy handicapping, and come back Thursday as I'll have my "Tuley's Take" column looking at the public perception and the wiseguys' view of (as well as my plays for) the NFL conference championship games.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 5-5-0
coleryan Posts:12149 Followers:20
01/15/2014 06:17 AM

Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker found himself in a familiar position after his team's 24-17 AFC divisional playoff win over San Diego -- talking about a play he couldn't make.

It was a seam route that sent him 25 yards upfield, with two Chargers defensive backs shadowing him as Peyton Manning launched a pass. It was a tough catch to be sure, one that would've put Denver in position to take a 21-0 lead late in the first half. It also was a throw Welker couldn't handle, as the ball bounced off his fingers and landed harmlessly on the turf.

That play wouldn't be such a big deal if this weren't Welker we're talking about today. He's known for his sure hands and his exceptional reliability, but right now he has a serious image problem. The team with which he spent six seasons starring -- the New England Patriots -- is coming to Denver for the AFC Championship Game. When that game begins, Welker will need to deliver the big plays that haven't been part of his playoff experience in a notably long time.

Patriots fans surely remember his key drop in last year's AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. New England held a 13-7 lead early in the third quarter of that contest when quarterback Tom Brady lofted a pass toward Welker on a third-and-8 play from the Baltimore 34-yard line. That ball caromed off the star receiver's hands that day, as well. Instead of putting themselves in position to create a two-score advantage, the Patriots watched the Ravens steal the momentum and cruise to a 28-13 victory.

Welker was just as culpable a year earlier, when New England led the New York Giants 17-15 late in Super Bowl XLVI. Brady once again looked to Welker on a critical second-and-11 play from the Giants' 44-yard line with four minutes left. In fairness to Welker, the pass was a little high for a 5-foot-9, 190-pound receiver. But it was low enough for him to get two hands on it just before it skipped off his fingers.

Welker has been in the NFL long enough -- 10 seasons, to be exact -- to know how this looks. For all the accolades he's earned with his 841 career receptions, he's also become best known for the handful of balls he couldn't grab.

It helps that he's a stand-up guy, one who's always willing to take the blame for how those mishaps have factored into his team's failures. It also is something worth keeping an eye on as the Broncos try to go through New England on their way to this year's Super Bowl.

Welker was supposed to be the ultimate difference-maker when the Broncos signed him as an unrestricted free agent last offseason. He was supposed to give Manning the dynamic underneath presence this offense lacked last season and also strip Brady of his favorite target. It was the ultimate win-win for Denver. No slot receiver in football had caught more passes over the previous six seasons than Welker had amassed in New England.

Today the perspective on that deal feels a bit different. The Patriots got 105 receptions out of Julian Edelman in 2013 and another 54 out of Danny Amendola, the man who was supposed to replace Welker before he wound up missing four games with injuries. That's the thing about slot receivers that people often tend to miss when admiring their video-game numbers. You can find a lot of guys who can catch 4- and 5-yard passes in this league.
What was supposed to separate Welker from everybody else was his consistency. Regardless of the situation, he could move the chains or help clinch a game. At one point he even displayed an ability to move out wide and make plays against top cornerbacks. That's what the Broncos were expecting when he arrived.

Welker has given the Broncos plenty of numbers. Even while missing three games with a concussion, he caught 77 passes -- 10 for touchdowns -- during the regular season and six more Sunday in his first game back (for 38 yards and a touchdown). His presence on short and intermediate routes made life easier for fellow wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and surely created more opportunities for Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas. Manning was the biggest winner in all this, as he set NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in a single season.

Manning actually should be able to relate to the questions about Welker at this stage of his career. For years, Manning has heard how his own gaudy statistics aren't nearly as important as his less-than-stellar record in the postseason. Though Manning led the Indianapolis Colts to two Super Bowls -- winning one after the 2006 season -- he's also 10-11 overall in the playoffs. Even now, as his career winds down, Manning still has critics who question his comfort in the tightest of moments.

Welker has managed to escape such scrutiny on a national level because he's usually played in the shadows of bigger names. When he arrived in New England, Randy Moss was the receiver who dominated the headlines. When Welker started going to Pro Bowls (he's been to five), he was the undrafted underdog who made good on his opportunity to shine. And when the Patriots couldn't win Super Bowls in either the 2007 or 2011 season, it was Brady and coach Bill Belichick who caught the bulk of the blame.

If not for Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen, we might never have paid as much attention to Welker's failings as we do today. A cameraman caught her complaining about New England receivers dropping passes in Super Bowl XLVI -- she famously said "My husband cannot f---ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time" -- and that little controversy lasted a few days. Though Welker certainly was motivation for that rant, the consensus then was that he was still human. That was simply his time to have a tough moment at the office.

Now we have more evidence that there could be a larger problem at work here, that this may be who Wes Welker really is. That's not to discredit his numbers or the way he's handled his career, either. By all accounts, Welker has been the kind of player any franchise would love to have for many years.

But come Sunday, when the game is on the line, he'll have to prove something his former team obviously questioned: That he's the kind of player who can deliver when it really matters most.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 5-5-0
finance Posts:8259 Followers:219
01/15/2014 09:42 AM

Can Peyton handle the pressure here? Lose and his rep for the best "regular season" QB ever will be even further enhanced... as well as his inability to beat Brady in the playoffs....can't say his legacy wouldn't be tarnished some here....

  • All Time Record: 1886-1845-51
  • Last 7 Days Record: 3-4-0
  • Last 30 Days Record: 19-15-3
coleryan Posts:12149 Followers:20
01/16/2014 04:16 PM

Here's a conservative prediction: If Peyton Manning plays two more full NFL seasons, he'll surpass Brett Favre for the most passing yards in NFL history (he's roughly 7,000 shy of the mark as of now).

Tom Brady is already the NFL's all-time leader in postseason passing yards with more than 6,000.

And yet, when the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots on Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, all eyes will be on the rushing offenses.

Huh?

For context, it was in Week 12 that the Broncos rushed for 280 yards against the Patriots, which wasn't quite enough to earn a victory but reinforced that New England's run defense was in the midst of what was a largely rough regular season.

For more context, consider this: Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount has eight rushing touchdowns over the past three games, more than five teams had all season.

Each team has emphasized throughout the week that the previous matchup will have no bearing on Sunday's showdown, but it does help us focus through a lens that is likely to play a big part in the rematch Sunday.

Those 280 rushing yards allowed are an immense total, even if the Broncos accomplished it in nearly five full quarters (the winning kick in overtime came with less than two minutes to go, and the Broncos rushed for 76 overtime yards).

The run defense has been an area of limitation for the Patriots throughout the season, as New England was without nose tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly for most of it. The case can be made for that trio being the three most critical run-stoppers on the team.

Another run-stuffer, linebacker Brandon Spikes, is now on injured reserve, but the Patriots run defense has shown some signs of improvement since the Denver game.

From a personnel standpoint, the most critical adjustment has been an increased reliance on Sealver Siliga, a wide-bodied 23-year-old who has started five straight games. Siliga fits the Patriots' mold of an interior defensive lineman with the strength through his hips and core to not give ground at the line of scrimmage while locking out his arms and absorbing double-teams. That frees up space for the Patriots' linebackers to run free and stay off guards and second-level blockers.

It's been far from perfect, but the Patriots have held two of five opponents under 100 yards rushing since Siliga became a starter.

Do Pats want Broncos to challenge the run D?

Even though the Patriots struggled against the run during the first go-around, there's logic behind the idea that they would prefer Denver to rely as heavily on the run as it did in Week 12.

The Broncos did not have a run over 18 yards, and their longest pass play was a reception by Montee Ball out of the backfield in which he was able to find open space and turn it into a 31-yard pickup.

Denver didn't have a single play over 18 yards besides that, as Manning threw for just 150 yards, easily his lowest output of the season.

Manning is the master of at-the-line play calling and adjustments, taking what the defense gives him on each snap. The Patriots may well aim to tempt the Broncos to run Sunday, hoping their run defense has been fortified enough to offset the Broncos' steady ground game.

Blount the bruiser

Blount had just two touches the first time these teams met (due in part to an early fumble), something that is bound not to repeat itself Sunday.

Since becoming the Patriots' late-season bell cow, Blount has gobbled up yards between the tackles. As a team, the Patriots have rushed for more than 200 yards per game between the tackles during their past three contests, best in the NFL.

For Blount, the 250-pounder, the key has been his pad level, playing with his weight above him and under control.

He has provided explosive plays too, both as a runner and returner. He has had runs of 30, 35, 36 and 73 yards over the past two games while also earning tough yards in short-yardage situations.

The Broncos have statistically been one of the better run defenses this season, but one must also consider the regularity that they have played from well ahead in a contest, often forcing opposing offenses to air it out.

Blount, Stevan Ridley and the Patriots interior offensive line present a unique challenge, hallmarked by physicality and a reliance on trap, power-I and other "old school" running plays that emphasize precise execution and power over creative scheming.

Can Broncos' D hold the fort?

Supposing the Patriots turn to Blount and the running game early, the question becomes whether the Broncos are able to stop -- or at least contain -- it.

Von Miller is known as an elite pass-rusher, but he's also an elite edge-setting run defender. With he and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson out, the Broncos are down two pillars of their run defense. While cornerback Chris Harris didn't figure into the run defense as prominently, his injury means an increased volume of snaps for veteran Quentin Jammer. The trickle-down effect is that the Patriots can attack Jammer in the passing game, which could force the Broncos to dedicate more help to his side, softening the box to defend the run.

So while the Broncos have been able to largely contain running games from a statistical measure this season (defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has been a strong contributor), the Patriots offense presents the greatest challenge yet, spearheaded by what has become arguably the most physical offensive approach in the NFL over the past month.

What's it all mean?

Brady and Manning have dominated the headlines this week, understandably so given their illustrious careers.

But, as unlikely as it seems, the running game will in large part dictate the outcome of Sunday's game.

The ability to limit explosive plays with their first game plan could result in the Patriots taking a similar approach to what they used in Week 12, forcing Denver to win on the ground rather than through the air to prevent Manning from one of his high-octane efforts.

But the Patriots must also do a far better job in their run fits, avoiding getting stuck on blocks at the first and second levels of the defense to prevent another field day from Moreno.

If they do that, combined with a rushing attack that may just be too physical for Denver to slow down, the Patriots have an excellent shot of running to their eighth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 5-5-0
coleryan Posts:12149 Followers:20
01/17/2014 06:41 PM


1. Patriots' offensive approach: If the Patriots want to stick with what has worked over the past three games, then hammering the Broncos on the ground seems like a strong bet. LeGarrette Blount and the stable of backs have been dominant behind an overwhelming offensive line. The Patriots are a game plan offense, however, always aiming to attack a defense’s weakness, and with recent injuries factored in, the Broncos are a better defense against the run than the pass. Will the Patriots try to pick apart a secondary playing without its best cornerback? Or, perhaps, will the ground game set the tone?

2. Slowing Denver's passing attack: Back in Week 12, the Patriots' defense was able to limit Manning to a mortal effort, holding him to 150 passing yards on 19-of-36 attempts. Some of that might be attributed to the wind, but the secondary also showed it has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the best offense in football. A key player who was not on the field during that matchup, tight end Julius Thomas, will be available this Sunday, giving the Patriots one more player to account for. He joins the trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and, of course, Wes Welker to form a unique set of weapons for Manning.

3. Building the run D wall: In the last meeting, Denver rushed for 280 yards, with Knowshon Moreno accounting for 224 of those yards. The Patriots were likely happy with keeping the Broncos' passing offense under wraps in Week 12, but they have repeatedly said this week that they can't afford to let Denver run the ball the same way again. From a personnel standpoint, the insertion of Sealver Siliga as a starter at defensive tackle has appeared to pay off, as the Patriots have held two of their past five opponents under 100 yards rushing.

4. Allen and Dobson’s health and status: They have flown under the radar a bit after Brady missed Wednesday’s practice, but both punter Ryan Allen and wide receive Aaron Dobson have practiced on a limited basis this week. Allen left last Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, and while that won’t likely impact his punting, it could be a factor in him handling snaps, both as the holder and punter, as we saw what a high snap can do on a given play last week. For Dobson, who hasn’t played since Week 17, a return would give the Patriots their biggest receiver in the lineup and a potential red-zone target. Should the Patriots aim to test a beaten up Denver secondary, Dobson could give them a vertical presence on the perimeter.

5. Altitude, crowd noise, “Omaha!”, etc. It’s hard to gauge just how much the thin air of Denver impacts players’ stamina on the field, but one area where it does often have an impact is in the kicking game. Don’t expect many kickoff returns on Sunday, though it does shorten the field for offenses, who can attempt field goals from greater distances. Denver is a loud venue, and the Patriots' offense will be tested by the crowd noise. As we saw in the Broncos-Chargers game, Manning is a master at drawing opponents offside (he used the cadence “Omaha!” 44 times during the game), and the Patriots must be disciplined in their pre-snap movement. Especially against this offense, giving away free yards (which can potentially extend a drive) is something a defense must avoid.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 5-5-0