Sunday, January 19, 2014

AFC Championship picks: Patriots at Broncos

Publisher Nick St. Denis, associate editor Dan Begnoche and senior contributor Sean Donovan pick the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.

Sean's take:
For all that's made about the offenses and the quarterbacks in this game, the best defensive gameplan is likely to win. Lacking its best slot cornerback and fielding a weak overall secondary, Denver will need to rely on its rangy linebacker corps to solidify the middle of their coverage. The Patriots are well equipped to take advantage of the compensating the Broncos must do with both the run and short passing game, and will be able to be aggressive defensively with a secondary that matches up well with the Denver receivers. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning orchestrate another classic, but it's the visiting team that comes out on top.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Broncos 27

Nick's take:
The good weather favors the Broncos' offense because of its dependency on the passing game. However, that doesn't mean the Patriots will shy away from what they've been doing so well themselves offensively, which is running the ball down opponents' throats. LeGarrette Blount has the hot hand and will be given a matching workload in the first half. Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman will make some key third-down receptions late, and the Patriots hand Manning another playoff loss.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Broncos 28

Dan's take:
While much talk has been about which running game will come out on top, a large focus will be on New England's individual matchups against Denver's abundance of receiving talent, namely the battle between Devin McCourty and Wes Welker. Getting to Manning will be a difficult but crucial task against a stout line considering his number of weapons, while Brady will need to be opportunistic against an ailing secondary. Expect another back-and-forth battle similar to Week 12, and don't be surprised if this one is decided by one play or another key coaching call similar to Belichick's OT move.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Patriots 27