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AFC Championship preview: New England vs Denver

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When the New Patriots and Denver Broncos take the field on Sunday afternoon, all eyes will Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. However, the AFC Championship most likely will come down to the ancillary parts. CBSsportsline.com has the Broncos as a 5.5 favorite on Sunday, so it could be a turnover that changes the outcome of the game. In a game of this magnitude, there are more than three phases in the keys to victory.

Over the course of the season, Denver has had the offensive edge over many opponents, including the Patriots. Denver even had a 24 point halftime advantage in their earlier meeting, and that still wasn’t enough for the Broncos to hold off New England. That game will be in the back of the minds for both teams the entire 60 minutes.

In the long run, the game did not cost Denver home field advantage, so Peyton Manning gets a shot for another Super Bowl in the friendly confines of Sports Authority Field. In addition, the weather forecast is expected to be 60 degrees. The great weather is not what New England was hoping for.

The offense

While everybody is skeptical about the New England skill position players, it’s not a fluke that LeGarrette Blount ran wild in the divisional round. He is also one of the freshest players on championship Sunday. Still, the loss of cornerback Chris Davis may leave the Denver secondary depleted. That’s why New England may let Tom Brady loose early and often. Chances are that New England will utilize a more balanced game plan during the AFC Championship.

Peyton Manning has put up tremendous numbers all season. However, it’s still not enough. Denver has not scored fewer than 20 points all season, but in every loss, the narrative on Peyton Manning was gloom and doom. That makes it a must win for the Denver Broncos.

Wes Welker has to be a stud for the Denver Broncos. Welker also has a lot to prove to the Patriots. He can’t afford to drop passes and expect to get away with the victory. When plays are to be made, Wes Welker must capitalize.

Special Teams

The first contest was lost on a muffed punt. Julian Edelman has dynamic return skills and he also leads the Patriots in receiving. The Broncos also have an explosive return game, but they do it by committee. Will the Broncos take the chance and have Trindon Holiday on the return team? This season he had two special teams’ touchdowns, but he also had five fumbles.

Denver has been great when going for three. Matt Prater made 25 out of 26 field goals this season.

Stephen Gostkowski only missed three out of 41 field goal attempts this year. Gostkowski also took over punting duties with the injury to Ryan Allen last week. Allen got injured during errant punting attempt that caused a safety against Indianapolis. He should be ready to go for the Patriots on Sunday.

Defensively

This part of the game will all come down to tackling and being in the right position. Both teams need to know their assignments. Neither side should get discouraged if things aren’t going well early. They shouldn’t relax and think they have it all figured out either.

If New England comes with a similar game plan, they’ll force Denver to run the ball the majority of the game. That strategy slowed Peyton Manning’s effectiveness during the November win.

If Denver gets out to a big lead, it will be up to the defense to hold that lead. The moment Denver sits back and plays not to lose will be the moment that their demise is imminent. Denver needs to hold New England to field goals, but they can’t allow long drives in any circumstance.

The Verdict

The AFC Championship will be broken down into four critical moments. The first quarter will set the tone of the game. There’s no doubt Denver wants to jump out to a double digit lead with game altering plays. Expect Denver to come out fast.

In the second quarter, look for New England to make adjustments if things aren’t going well. The final four minutes of the first half could supply the game changing momentum. Attention should focus on which team won the toss, and who will receive the second half kick.

The second half will show more adjustments on both sides and each team will need to get off to a good start. However, it will all set up the fourth quarter showdown.

Throughout the game, teams shouldn’t settle for field goals, but they should take the points when they are presented. When so many games end on a field goal attempt, you never know when those three points should come in handy.

Denver 31

New England 27

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