Patriots 16

(12-4, 4-4 away)

Broncos 26

(13-3, 7-1 home)

Coverage: CBS

3:00 PM ET, January 19, 2014

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO 

1 2 3 4 T
NE 0 3 0 1316
DEN 3 10 7 626

Top Performers

Passing: P. Manning (DEN) - 400 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: K. Moreno (DEN) - 14 CAR, 59 YDS

Receiving: D. Thomas (DEN) - 7 REC, 134 YDS, 1 TD

Patriots-Broncos Preview

In a season in which Peyton Manning surpassed Tom Brady's single-season record for touchdown passes, it's probably fitting that these superstars will meet with the AFC title on the line.

While the quarterbacks will share this weekend's spotlight, there's reason to believe the rushing attacks for the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will be more decisive to Sunday's outcome.

This could be the final postseason matchup between these future Hall of Fame signal-callers, and the stakes couldn't be higher with a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line in Denver.

Manning was the story of the season as he dissected NFL defenses with ease for 55 touchdown passes. Brady set the previous mark of 50 in 2007 when the Patriots nearly completed an historic 19-0 season before an upset loss in the Super Bowl to a New York Giants team led by Manning's brother, Eli.

Brady has won 10 of 14 matchups with Manning's teams, including a 2-1 mark in the postseason in which the home team has prevailed each time. This duel is drawing comparisons to other iconic sports matchups such as Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus and Bird-Magic.

"It's going to a barnburner," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said.

The first meeting this season certainly was a thriller, as New England (13-4) rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit for a 34-31 overtime win Nov. 24 in Foxborough. Manning was held to 150 yards, a 52.8 completion percentage and a 70.4 passer rating -- by far his worst figures of his historic season.

Denver (14-3) is favored this time as the No. 1 seed with home-field advantage. Brady, who returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of illness, said in his weekly WEEI radio show that he is relishing being the underdog.

"I'm sure no one's going to pick us to win this week," said Brady, who will make his eighth AFC title game appearance and third in as many years. "We've had our backs against the wall for a while. Really, the whole season we've lost players, and teams have really counted us out."

The players that Brady and Manning will hand off to this weekend figure to be crucial in determining the winner.

Elway had Terrell Davis in his backfield when Denver won the Super Bowl in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, and Manning also will give the ball to a former Georgia tailback.

Knowshon Moreno had a career-high 1,038 rushing yards this season, and the Patriots will be very familiar with him after he had a career-best 224 yards in the November meeting.

Moreno's 23 carries for 82 yards along with a touchdown last Sunday helped Denver enjoy over 35 minutes of possession in a 24-17 divisional victory over San Diego. He had offseason knee surgery after being limited to 15 games over the past two seasons and now is one game away from a trip to the Super Bowl that will be about an hour's drive from Middletown, N.J., where Moreno grew up.

"He has just been a rock for us back there," Manning said.

While New England knows what to expect from Moreno, Denver can't say the same about LeGarrette Blount, who had two carries for 13 yards the last time these teams met.

Blount is rolling now with a career-high 189 rushing yards in a 34-20 win over Buffalo in Week 17, and 166 with four TDs in last Saturday's 43-22 rout of Indianapolis.

"I think they do a good job with personnel and he's obviously another different weapon but he's big and physical," Denver coach John Fox said. "He's got skins on the wall in this league as far as a running back."

The emergence of a New England running game that also features Stevan Ridley has taken the pressure off Brady, who was sacked 40 times this year for his highest total since 2001. One of Brady's best efforts came against Denver, as he completed 34 of 50 passes for 344 yards, three scores and no interceptions.

Brady has mostly been without his top five targets of 2012, with Wes Welker having departed to Denver and Rob Gronkowski limited to seven games before season-ending knee surgery. Julian Edelman has stepped up with a team-high 1,056 yards.

"I think he's really led our receiving group with a tremendous amount of toughness, consistency," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "He practices hard, prepares hard, he's on top of his game plan."

McDaniels will return to Denver for the first time since he posted an 11-17 record as Broncos coach before he was fired during the 2010 season.

Manning will be able to target tight end Julius Thomas, who missed the first meeting with a knee injury. Thomas had a team-high 76 yards through the air last weekend on six catches, converting a key 3rd-and-17 in the closing minutes to help seal the win.

"Excellent player -- size, speed, he's a good vertical receiver, he gets down the field on seams and flags and over routes and wheel routes, like he caught last week and things like that," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "He's also good on catch-and-run plays."

Welker will try to atone for his gaffe in the first meeting when he failed to inform his teammates in time that he was not going to field Ryan Allen's punt in overtime. Teammate Tony Carter ran into it, and the Patriots recovered the ball to lead to Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal with 1:56 left.

Allen hurt his shoulder in the second quarter against the Colts, with Gostkowski punting the rest of the game. Allen returned to practice Wednesday, but Belichick did not say who will handle the punting duties.

The home team has won all three previous playoff meetings. Elway guided the Broncos to a 22-17 win after the 1986 season en route to his first Super Bowl appearance, Brady suffered his first loss in a playoff game after starting 10-0 with a 27-13 defeat after the 2005 season and the Patriots cruised to a 45-10 win two seasons ago against an overmatched Tim Tebow-led Denver squad.


Passing Leaders

T. Brady64.44770367
D. Amendola100.03600
P. Manning59.82249917
B. Osweiler61.81967106

Rushing Leaders

L. Blount1657034.36
D. Lewis492344.82
R. Hillman2078634.27
C. Anderson1527204.75

Receiving Leaders

R. Gronkowski72117616.311
J. Edelman6169211.37
D. Thomas105130412.46
E. Sanders76113514.96

Team Averages & NFL Ranks

Total YardsNE
Yards PassingNE
Yards RushingNE
Yards AllowedNE
Pass Yds AllowedNE
Rush Yds AllowedNE

Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)

Denver leads 7-6
Nov 24, 2013NE 34, DEN 31
Oct 7, 2012NE 31, DEN 21
Jan 14, 2012NE 45, DEN 10
Dec 18, 2011NE 41, @DEN 23
Oct 11, 2009NE 17, @DEN 20
Oct 20, 2008NE 41, DEN 7
Sep 24, 2006NE 7, DEN 17
Jan 14, 2006NE 13, @DEN 27
Oct 16, 2005NE 20, @DEN 28
Nov 3, 2003NE 30, @DEN 26
Oct 27, 2002NE 16, DEN 24
Oct 28, 2001NE 20, @DEN 31

Research Notes

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have met before in the postseason, but this time Manning will be wearing a different uniform. The only instance in NFL history where Hall of Fame quarterbacks met in the postseason --- and then later faced off against eachother in a playoff game with 1 of them playing for a different team was between Joe Montana and Dan Marino. Montana (SF) and Marino (MIA) met in Super Bowl 19 as Montana's 49ers won, 38-16. The two Hall of Famers then met in the 1994 AFC Wild Card game as Marino's Dolphins defeated Montana's Chiefs, 27-17. It was the last game of Montana's career.
Tom Brady will start his first road playoff game since the 2006 AFC Championship on Sunday, and he has thrown the same amount of touchdowns as interceptions on the road in his playoff career.
Fixing Blount's numbers in second paragraph... --- New England's reliance on the run is new, but New England's success when rushing inside the tackles isn't. In the first 15 weeks of the season, the Patriots' 4.8 yards per rush average on inside rushes ranked sixth in the league. New England's 5.8 yards per interior rush since Week 16 trails only the Eagles (5.9). Most of the increased workload has gone to LeGarrette Blount, who tripled his interior rushes per game. Blount averaged 6.1 inside-the-tackle rushes per game in the first 14 games of the season, but 18.3 in New England's last three games.
Peyton Manning is just 6-11 against Bill Belichick in his career, his 2nd-worst win percentage against one coach (min. 5 starts). He has a losing record against only TWO coaches, Belichick has beaten him more than twice as often as any other head coach.
The Broncos' opening drive of the 3rd quarter was their longest of the season (7:08). It was also the fourth straight possession that the Broncos scored on. Denver averaged 9 plays, 77 yards and 5:09 of possession on those four drives.
Peyton Manning is just the third QB with multiple postseason wins over Tom Brady. Eli Manning and Joe Flacco each bested Brady twice.
Manning is 7-7, 85 yards and 2 TD's when using play action today through the third-quarter touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
Through his third-quarter touchdown pass to D. Thomas, Manning's been under pressure on 3-of-32 dropbacks today (9.4 percent). The defense with the lowest pressure percentage in the league was 21.6 percent of dropbacks (Jets).
Peyton Manning set the Broncos playoff record for completions in a game with 32 today against the Patriots.
Peyton Manning had all day to throw, with New England pressuring Manning on 3-of-43 dropbacks (7%), his second-lowest percentage this season (Week 14 vs Titans, 5%) and the lowest by the Patriots defense. Manning completed 7-of-9 passes for 186 yards on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Manning's deep ball was much better Sunday than in his last meeting against the Patriots. The Patriots defense had one disrupted dropback (sack, pass breakup or interception), their fewest in a game since a 2010 Divisional Playoff loss to the Jets. Manning finished 8-of-8 for 116 yards and two touchdowns using play action on Sunday. All eight of Manning's play-action attempts were completed for first downs.
The Patriots ran for 42 yards on 12 rushes between the tackles Sunday, their fewest since Week 2 vs the Jets. Over the last three games New England averaged 34.3 carries for 200.3 yards between the tackles. LeGarrette Blount had four rushes for 6 yards between the tackles after averaging 18.3 interior rushes for 130.0 yards per game since Week 16.
The Broncos averaged 8.9 plays per drive Sunday, their most this season. Only the Patriots in Week 11 (9.6) and Packers in Week 8 (9.1) averaged more plays per drive in a game this season. The Broncos had two touchdown drives Sunday, with the first taking up 7:01 of game time and the second taking up 7:08 of game time. Entering the game, the Broncos had only one drive lasting more than seven minutes (7:01), which occurred in the Divisional Playoffs against the Chargers.
The Patriots' 16 rushing yards in the 1st half is their fewest in any half this season. Previously, their fewest in a half was 19 in the 2nd half vs the Jets in Week 2.
Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme caught just his 2nd touchdown of the season in the 2nd quarter. His only other touchdown also came against New England in Week 12.
New England's pass defense took a hit when Aqib Talib left the game in the second quarter with rib and knee injuries. Before Talib left the game, Manning was 9-of-14 (64.3 percent) for 125 yards (8.9 yards per attempt). After Talib exited, Manning went 23-for-29 (79.3 percent) for 275 yards (9.5 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns, including one stretch completing 19-of-20 attempts. Demaryius Thomas caught 7-of-10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. Thomas caught 4-of-9 targets for 41 yards in Denver's Week 12 loss to the Patriots, including a pair of drops (his only multi-drop game this season). In Week 12, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski finished with 7 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown while Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was inactive. Sunday, Thomas finished with eight catches for 85 yards and four first downs while Gronkowski was inactive.
Peyton Manning threw for 400 yards for the third time in his playoff career, tying Drew Brees for the most such postseason games in NFL history.
DEN Average Drive- 10 plays, 67.5 yards, 3.25 points NE Average Drive- 5 plays, 22.8 yards, 0.6 points
Since 2001 including the playoffs, when Denver has a time-of-possession advantage at home they are 49-12, and the Broncos are 22-26 when they don't.

ESPN Stats & Information