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Five of the past six games between the Patriots and Broncos have been decided by one score, with the average margin of victory at 4.67 points. Half of the games have been decided by three or fewer points. Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots always play Peyton Manning to a close finish. Even if the Broncos win, the Patriots shouldn’t be far behind and should definitely cover.
The Broncos are decimated on defense and the Patriots will be all too willing to take advantage of their weakened run defense. The Broncos are going to be without their unquestioned best defensive player (Von Miller) and without their best defensive back on the season (Chris Harris Jr.). If the Patriots can hold off pressure, then Brady should be able to pick apart the defense. Miller, as well as Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe, will be inactive and the three combined for 12 of the 17 total pressures in the first matchup with New England.
Pats putting it together
The Patriots defense was a wreck in the first game. Their current best defensive tackle wasn’t around (Sealver Siliga), three of their starting defensive backs were injured (Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Steve Gregory), and the linebackers were the weakest pieces of the defense (Dont’a Hightower was benched and Jamie Collins hadn’t yet emerged). All of these have changed in the Patriots’ favor. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots win straight up.
The numbers tell us that Denver is 2-1 all time against New England in the postseason, including a 2-0 record in the Mile High City. The Broncos are also 14-4 all time at home in the playoffs, including a 6-2 mark in AFC Championship Games in which they have 4-1 record at Mile High.
Run stops here
One could argue for eternity as to which team's quarterback is better. Suffice it to say, that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are elite franchise QBs. That leaves the running game against the defenses. Denver holds the edge here as it is better at stuffing the run. LeGarrette Blount won't be running for 166 yards and four touchdowns against a Denver defense that has only allowed one 100-yard performance by a running back this season. Knowshon Moreno, on the other hand, ran for 224 yards and a score against this very Patriots team in Week 12.
Man(ning) on a mission
Manning just finished the most proficient season by a quarterback in NFL history. No one could have predicted back to back 13-3 seasons out of a 37 year old coming off four neck surgeries three years ago. After an overtime upset by the Steelers in the playoffs last season, Peyton has imposed fortitude throughout the entire Broncos organization to the point that Denver will settle for nothing less than a Lombardi Trophy next month. Manning is 1-0 vs. New England at home in the postseason. As a Bronco, (including playoffs), Peyton is 15-3 at home with 54 Touchdowns vs. 11 Interceptions and a 111.1 passer rating.
We talk with Michael Stewart, an oddsmaker with CarbonSports.ag, about the action coming in the AFC Championship Game, the drastic line move that occurred shortly after posting this spread, and where he sees the line landing coming kickoff.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos – Open: -7, Move: -4.5, Move: -5.5
The Brady vs. Manning media blitz was overshadowed – at least in the sports betting industry – by the massive line movement this spread saw once it hit the market. Books opened New England as high as a touchdown underdog after thumping Indianapolis in the Divisional Round and took instant action on the road team, pushing this spread as many as 2.5 points.
“We literally wrote 50 bets to zero bets at that number,” Stewart says of the touchdown opener and action on the Patriots. “No question, we hung a bad opening number because we saw nothing but one-way action.”
Stewart admits the spread was off but is baffled by how far bettors have driven this spread, and the amount on money on New England at the mid-week mark. He points out that the Broncos were double-digit favorites in six of their eight home games during the regular season and easily covered those single-digit home spreads versus Baltimore and Kansas City.
“Bottom line, this team has been dominant at home and while I admit we opened with a bad number of 7, all the money we booked on the Patriots is surprising to me and my crew,” he says. “We’ve gone from needing the Broncos’ opponent in every single game this year, to all of a sudden seeing everyone fading the Broncos here. It is amazing to me.”
Once the spread dropped to Denver –4.5, action started to show up on the home side. Stewart says sharp money came in Monday afternoon and commanded a move to Broncos -5. Another hit from wiseguys forced books to tack on a half point Wednesday morning.
“This is by far one of the more interesting games we’ve booked in recent memory, as the public is supporting the dog and the wiseguys are on the favorite,” Stewart tells Covers. “The public drove this number down and now the sharps are driving it back up. So far 75 percent of the action is on the Patriots and, while sharp money is on the favorite, I don’t think we’ll get back to -6 because of our exposure on the Patriots is already significant enough.”
The total for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game isn’t as volatile as the spread, but has seen its share of adjustments. The number opened 55 and with 70 percent of total wagers siding with the Over, the book has since moved to 56. But Stewart believes this line isn’t done moving yet and could see major sharp influence before Sunday’s game.
“I suspect the wiseguys are waiting for this total to go even higher and I expect their patience will pay off because we’re going to eventually get to 56.5 and maybe, maybe even 57 as we get closer to kickoff,” he says.