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Sunday, January 12, 2014
Quick Take: Patriots at Broncos

By Mike Reiss

Three thoughts on New England Patriots vs. the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game at 3 p.m. Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

1. Just as Bill Belichick predicted: In a postgame meeting with receiver Wes Welker after the Patriots' 34-31 victory over the Broncos on Nov. 24., Welker relayed what was discussed. “He came over and he was like, ‘Good job, we’ll see you all again, I’m sure.'"  Nice call, Bill. From start to finish, the Broncos and Patriots were the AFC's best, most consistent teams this season. And we never get tired of another Peyton Manning-Tom Brady duel. So it seems fitting, from this viewpoint, that these teams will meet to decide the AFC champion.

2. Broncos didn't get a heavy dose of Blount: The Patriots' offense has almost reinvented itself over the past three games into more of a ground-and-pound attack, with 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser LeGarrette Blount leading the team's three-man committee at running back and turning in two record-setting performances. Guard Logan Mankins said after Saturday's victory over the Colts: "Right now, I don't know if we're a better running team than a passing team, but the running is working. So why go away from something that's working?" Blount played just two offensive snaps against the Broncos on Nov. 24, in part because the Patriots fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter and became more one-dimensional toward the pass. From an instant analysis perspective, this is the key for the Patriots this week. If they can play the game on their terms and get Blount going, I think they have matchup advantages against a suspect defense that could be exploited and ultimately result in a win. If they are forced into a spread game like they were Nov. 24, the chances of victory decrease significantly.

3. In a sub defense game, secondary is as strong as it has been: In the Nov. 24 game between the teams, the Patriots were in a sub defense (five or six defensive backs) for all 90 snaps (including penalties). That's usually the way it goes when playing a Manning-led team and Manning was content to hand the ball off against the lighter box (280 rushing yards, 48 carries). That chess match figures to be in play once again. For the Patriots, they are as healthy and as deep as they have been all season in the secondary, which is ideal in this type of X's-and-O's chess match. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are locked in as the top cornerbacks, with Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory the starting safeties. Nickel back Kyle Arrington played a solid game in the slot against Welker on Nov. 24 and the Patriots also have impressive rookie Logan Ryan.