New England @ Denver: Five keys to the AFC Championship Game

CJ Anderson has to have a game for the ages on Sunday
CJ Anderson has to have a game for the ages on Sunday

Brady-Manning XVII is set for Sunday and Neil Monnery looks at the five key clashes from the AFC Championship Game.

"If Denver are going to win the D has to be great, the running game has to be outstanding, they can't drop many balls and as for Peyton, he's going to have to gut it out like a pitcher whose lost his fastball.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
Start-time: Sunday 20:05
TV: Live on Sky Sports

1) Tom Brady v the Denver pass rush

If Denver are to win on Sunday they need to pressure Tom Brady. Luckily for them this is one thing they do well. New England's o-line has been battered and bruised all season long but they have to play well to stop Brady getting hit and sacked. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware need to show up big. If given time Brady will carve up even the top ranked pass defense in the league.

Verdict: Slight edge the Denver pass rush

2) New England receivers v Denver coverage

If Brady gets time this could be brutal and I'm a huge fan of the Denver D. Rob Gronkowski is unstoppable, all you can hope to do is manage him. Julian Edelman is just amazing, a genuine joy to watch. If these two guys are fit to go then Denver are in trouble because both like to play inside the numbers and that is the weak spot for the Denver passing defense. They have a good secondary but if Edelman or Gronk find themselves matched up on a linebacker, expect New England to like and exploit this.

Verdict: New England - big

3) Denver receivers v a case of the dropsies

Can someone please catch the darn ball? All season long Denver have been dropping balls (from both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler). If they are to win this game, they have to catch everything near them. They have the talent, DeMaryius Thomas is flat out a superstar, Emmanuel Sanders has turned himself into one of the best #2 receivers in the game. They need production from tight ends Owen Daniels and Virgil Green but as much as you can't trust Peyton at the moment, you can't trust these receivers either.

Verdict: The dropsies win out

4) Denver running game v New England D

CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman need to stock up on their Weetabix this week and have double portions on Sunday morning. Manning isn't winning this game with his arm or with his legs. So the offense will be carried by these two. We've seen glimpses all year but just that - glimpses. My feeling is Anderson will be the man on Sunday and he needs to have a game for the ages. The Patriots are stout in defense, funnelling everything inside, which makes running between the tackles and finding creases key.

Verdict: Push

5) Peyton Manning v Father Time

Father Time is undefeated. Manning is on his way to finding that out. The question is can he hold him off for just two more games of football? I have always had the view that the greats can have one final run in them, even when they are past their best. I always tip Fred Couples for the US Masters. Remember Ian Woosnam leading at the Open Championship after three rounds in 2001? How about Tom Watson leading after 71 holes in 2009? Steve Davis knocked out John Higgins at the Crucible in 2010. Kurt Warner came all the way back and had Arizona ahead deep in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIII. Brett Favre was going back to the Super Bowl until he threw that horrendous pick against New Orleans a year later. All of these were so close but no cigar but every so often one comes good, think Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001. You just never know...

Verdict: Father Time is still Father Time

Overall verdict:

New England are the favourites and rightly so. They win this game nine of of ten games if this was in New England. They still win it seven games out of ten in Colorado. Lots of talking heads have criticised the Broncos for going back to #18 and Sky's Neil Reynolds even went as far to say that if Denver's D doesn't play lights out, the only way they win the game is to bench Manning. I wouldn't go that far but this is an uphill struggle for the Broncos. If they are going to win the D has to be great, the running game has to be outstanding, they can't drop many balls and as for Peyton, he's going to have to gut it out like a pitcher who has lost his fastball. The greats can do it but will he Sunday? We'll find out soon enough.

Neil Harvey will be here later in the week for the full New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos betting preview and I'll be back in a fortnight with betting.betfair's Super Bowl 50 extravaganza (or a simple betting preview, either/or).

Neil Monnery NFL P/L 2015 Season

Staked - 211pts
Returned - 277.44pts
P&L - +66.44pts

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