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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:08 PM
Special Teams

New England boasted an above-average return game in the regular season, ranking 12th in average kickoff return yardage (24) and 11th in average punt return (10.8). The Patriots were even better on the other side of the ball, allowing the fifth-lowest kick return average (20.8) and tying for eighth in punt return defense (7.6). Kicker Steven Gostkowski was an unbelievable 38-for-41 on field-goal chances in the regular season, but was held without a kick last week.

The Broncos' return game is led by speedster Trinton Holliday, who had two return touchdowns and helped guide Denver to the sixth-highest kickoff return average (25). Denver wasn't nearly as effective on the defensive side, allowing the highest kickoff return rate in the NFL (29.3) and surrendering a touchdown. Veteran placekicker Matt Prater missed just one of 26 field-goal opportunities in the regular season, and went 1-for-2 in last week's win over the Chargers.

Edge: New England
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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:09 PM
Tom Brady’s Patriots look to secure a sixth Super Bowl berth in the past 13 years on Sunday afternoon when they visit Peyton Manning’s Broncos seeking their first AFC Championship since 1998.

Brady is 10-4 head-to-head versus Manning, including 2-1 in the postseason, but is just 2-4 SU all-time in Denver. New England overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit in a 34-31 home win in Week 12 over the Broncos, as Brady threw for 344 yards and 3 TD, while Manning threw for a season-low 150 yards and 2 TD. But the story of that game was turnovers, as the Patriots lost fumbles on each of their first three drives, but Denver committed four turnovers to let New England back into the game. The Pats are red-hot, having won their past three contests by an average of 23.0 PPG, but they are just 2-6 ATS (4-4 SU) on the road this year. The Broncos have also won three straight games by an impressive 17.0 PPG, and are 5-3 ATS (8-1 SU) at home this season. Both teams have favorable betting trends for Sunday, as the Patriots are 20-8 ATS (71%) as an underdog of 3.5 to 9.5 points, and 25-10 ATS (71%) versus excellent passing teams (260+ pass YPG) under head coach Bill Belichick. But Denver is 15-5 ATS (75%) as a favorite of 3.5 to 9.5 points, and 12-4 ATS (75%) versus poor passing defenses (235+ passing YPG allowed) over the past two seasons. Both teams are dealing with significant injuries. New England LB Brandon Spikes (knee) is out, while P Ryan Allen (shoulder) and rookie WRs Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (head) are all questionable. For the Broncos, they lost CB Chris Harris (knee) for the season, and three other members of the secondary are also hurting -- S Duke Ihenacho (concussion) and CBs Champ Bailey (shoulder) and Kayvon Webster (thumb) -- but all three are expected to play on Sunday.

Starting with the comeback win over Denver in Week 12, the Patriots offense has been rolling with 33.3 PPG on 419 total YPG in their past seven games, where they've gone 6-1 SU (4-3 ATS). While in the past this offense was mostly due to QB Tom Brady throwing the football, the Patriots have considerably more rushing yards (214 rush YPG) than passing yards (153 pass YPG) during their three-game win streak. The man mostly responsible for this improved ground game is RB LeGarrette Blount, who has rushed for 431 yards on 64 carries (6.7 YPC) and eight touchdowns over the past three contests. Blount lost a fumble on his second carry of the game against Denver in Week 12 and did not touch the ball for the remainder of the contest, but he will need to be an integral part of this offense for his team to win on Sunday. New England knows it cannot be one-dimensional against what has been a strong Broncos run defense, and Brady threw all over Denver's subpar secondary on Nov. 24, completing 34-of-50 passes for 344 yards (6.9 YPA), 3 TD and 0 INT. Brady is now 5-6 with 7.4 YPA, 23 TD and 8 INT all-time versus the Broncos, including 7.8 YPA, 11 TD and 7 INT in six trips to Denver. WR Julian Edelman and RB Shane Vereen were Brady's main targets in Week 12, combining for 17 catches, 170 yards and 2 TD in that victory. Edelman has been outstanding all season with 111 receptions for 1,140 yards and 6 TD in his 17 games, racking up 59 catches for 640 yards and 4 TD in his past seven contests. The New England defense has had its problems throughout the season (374 total YPG allowed), which includes 244 passing YPG on 6.6 YPA, and 130 rushing YPG on 4.4 YPC. But the unit has allowed only 21.2 PPG this season, and just 16.3 PPG during its three-game win streak, which is helped greatly by its eight takeaways during this stretch. But they shouldn't expect the Broncos to turn the football over another four times like in their last meeting.

Denver has committed only five turnovers in its six games since losing in New England. Although QB Peyton Manning threw for a mere 150 yards in that defeat, with no receiver gaining even 50 yards, the Broncos were still able to amass 430 total yards on offense, compiling 280 rushing yards on 48 carries (5.8 YPC). RB Knowshon Moreno had 224 of those on 37 attempts (6.1 YPC), but he hasn't been great since that super-human effort, rushing for just 296 yards (3.8 YPC) in the past six games combined. Manning has relied on four main pass catchers this season in WRs Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, and TE Julius Thomas, who was injured for the game in New England. Julius Thomas led the team with 76 receiving yards in last Sunday's 24-17 win over San Diego, while Demaryius Thomas and Welker scored the touchdowns. Welker, who played with the Patriots for six seasons, managed just four catches for 31 yards against his former team in Week 12 and has not reached 100 yards in a game all season. Manning improved his career playoff record to 10-9 last week, while increasing his postseason stats to 5,488 passing yards (7.6 YPA), 33 TD and 22 INT. These numbers are similar to what he's done in 15 career games versus New England (5-10 record), where he has 4,225 passing yards (7.2 YPA), 31 TD and 20 INT. But Manning should have more faith in his defense that has been playing at a very high level over the team's three-game win streak, holding opponents to 14.7 PPG and 251 total YPG. That's a huge improvement from what the Broncos gave up in their first 14 games of the year (26.6 PPG and 372 total YPG). Denver has been especially stingy against opposing rushers during the win streak (72.0 YPG on 3.4 YPC), and has the ability to slow down the Patriots suddenly potent ground game. But since forcing three fumbles against New England on Nov. 24, the Broncos have totaled just six takeaways in the past six games combined.
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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:10 PM
Denver has been held to less than 400 yards of offense only 3 times this season – all 3 times by Chargers.
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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:11 PM
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (-5.5, 55)

Patriots’ pass rush vs. Broncos’ offensive timing

Lost in the Brady vs. Manning hoopla and the Patriots’ drastic shift in gears to the running game, is New England’s pass rush. The Patriots defense, specifically the guys bombarding the opposing quarterback, are playing their best football of the season.

New England has registered 11 sacks over the past three games, including three sacks on Colts QB Andrew Luck last weekend. The pass rush is throwing opposing offense’s timing off and has been the root cause for the seven passes the Pats’ have picked off in that span – four INTs versus Indianapolis.

Peyton Manning is a watchmaker at the line of scrimmage. Every cog must be perfectly set and timed in order for the offense to work with procession. The Broncos offensive line has done a good job keeping No. 18 clean, giving up just 20 sacks – best in the NFL.

However, in the only two games in which Manning failed to complete 60 percent or more of this passes – losses to New England (53.8%) and Indianapolis (59.2%) – Manning was sacked a total of six times. He also threw an interception in each of those games. Manning threw three picks versus Washington in Week 8 and was sacked twice in that win. Denver hasn’t faced a tough pass rush for a while either, pushing around the likes of San Diego twice, Oakland, Houston, and Tennessee in their last five games.
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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:14 PM
Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers (Hamstring, Questionable)

Cornerback Carlos Rogers has been out since the final game of the regular season. In the regular season, Rogers had 47 tackles and two interceptions. The 49ers travel to Seattle facing a Seahawks team that has had limited success in throwing the ball in the post season but have been dominant rushing the ball. If the 49ers are without Rogers again, the Seahawks passing offense may find the spark they have been missing through the air.
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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:15 PM
Denver has won 14 games this season, 13 by a touchdown or more
(Patriots have not lost a single game by more than a touchdown this season)
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Pfile Nickname coleryan
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01/19/2014 02:16 PM
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (-5.5, 57)

Peyton Manning is one win from advancing to his third Super Bowl, but he'll have to get past a longtime nemesis when the Denver Broncos host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. Manning shattered a number of passing records - including Brady's single-season touchdown mark - and is an overwhelming favorite to win an unprecedented fifth MVP award. Standing in his way is Brady, who is attempting to become the first quarterback to reach six Super Bowls.

It will mark the 15th overall matchup and fourth in the postseason for the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Brady has dominated the rivalry with a 10-4 record against Manning, including a 34-31 overtime win in New England on Nov. 24 - a game in which the Patriots erased a 24-0 halftime deficit. “It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning said. “Certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot. But when you get to the AFC Championship Game, it’s about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there.”
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