With the Superbowl on the line, the New England Patriots have traveled to the Mile High City to contest the Denver Broncos for the 2014 AFC Championship Game. And are there any other teams that could better represent the American Football Conference? With the exception of the Kansas City Chiefs, who went down hard to the Indianapolis Colts -- by one point -- as a Wild Card in the first playoff game, there are none. And with possibly the two best and perhaps hottest quarterbacks playing the game at the moment, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the match-up could not be more perfect for NFL fans. But only one team will walk off the field headed for the Superbowl. Who's got the best shot?
ESPN reported Jan. 19 that if history is indeed a strong indicator, then the Patriots will likely win the game and advance to the Superbowl for the sixth time behind the arm of Tom Brady (an NFL record if he makes it). Why? Because in all the Brady-Manning match-ups, Brady has a 10-4 record (2-1 in postseason play) against Manning.
The two teams met earlier in the season as well. Brady and the Patriots came out on top, but they needed an Overtime period to get the field goal necessary to chalk up the win.
But the past is the past -- right?
Peyton Manning certainly hopes so. He broke Tom Brady's single season touchdown passing record this year, ending up with 55 for the regular season, eclipsing Brady's record-setting best season (2007) by five. In comparison, Brady only threw for 25 touchdowns throughout the 2013 regular season.
The two field marshals lead their teams into the game only one win apart, the Patriots having lost four games to the Broncos' three. Denver brings the No. 1 rated passing offense, and even with New England's 10th-ranked passing offense and 9th-ranked rushing offense, the Patriots place six notches down from the top-ranked Broncos in total offense, according to NFL.com (457 yards per game vs. 384). In postseason play, though, the Patriots place one better than the Broncos, ranking 7th overall (419 yards per game) to the Broncos 8th (363 total yards).
Also on the plus side for the Broncos is an 8th-ranked rushing defense. The problem is: They can't protect against the pass very well, ranking 27th in the NFL. The Patriots are middle-of-the-road on passing defense (18th) and simply awful against the rush (ranking 30th). With such a lackluster defense (26th, allowing 373 yards per game), it is strange that they allowed only 21.1 points per game, given that the Broncos' 19th-ranked defense allowed 356 yards a game (average) and still allowed 24.9 points per game.
But those are all cumulative statistics. The game itself has millions of minor and major variables, from injured players not in the game to playing conditions on the field to the offensive and defensive play calls, actions, and reactions of each individual player every play throughout the game.
With that in mind, what do the professional oddsmakers have to say? Prior to the game, oddsmakers seemed to favor the Denver Broncos by at least four points, with Bovada.com showing Denver favored by 4 and SportsBetting.ag posting a 4.5 point spread.
And still, with all the numbers and statistics, the game begins at 0-0. It is not what was done prior to the game at hand but what is done within the current match-up that matters. The past and statistics can be indicative, they can be used to predict, but they can never tell us what will actually occur.
For that, we need the contest. The game. In this case: The Tom Brady and Peyton Manning show, episode 15. Will it be a classic match-up like the last? Or will one team become burdened with mistakes and lose in a blowout?
Statistics indicate a close one. History does as well.
Apparently, we'll just have to watch the game and see.
The 2014 AFC Championship Game airs Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m. (EST) on CBS Television.