Listen, I’m not going to get too in depth over another “Brady vs. Manning Bowl”, (if you want my opinion on each one’s legacy, read here: http://www.biasedbostonsports.com/our-columns/revisiting-week-1-hot-takes-and-more) because this one simply does not have the same feel as years past. Brady is the catalyst for the Patriots’ success and at this point, Manning is just along for the ride in Denver. When one guy can “hock a loogie” further and more accurately than the other guy can throw a football, the comparisons should be stopped. On 3-yard check down tosses, Manning’s five head blows up with so many veins I legitimately fear for his well-being. I swear every time he lets one go I think the game is going to be stopped and the “infield fly rule” is going to be called. This matchup on Sunday has a lot of storylines, but Brady vs. Manning should not be one of them.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Everyone outside of New England will be rooting for Denver with the same vigor they defended Manning after it was leaked he likes “juice” with his breakfast every morning. I’m excited about it, really. I’m excited to hear Mark Schlereth try to fit in objective analysis in between rambling on about how much weight he’s lost.
I’m excited to see Shannon Sharpe embark on the challenge of balancing thinking and forming two coherent sentences in a row. Talk about a multi-task, I feel your pain, Shan.
I’m excited for Jim Nantz to squirm in the booth like a teething new born after a Patriots score. In the eyes of the nation and media, this is good vs. evil, it’s superhero vs. villain and you just have to love it.
Some fun, albeit extremely ill-advised quotes out of the Broncos locker-room this week:
LB Brandon Marshall (on Gronk): “He pushes off…He pushes off and gets away with it about 98% of the time.”
DE Malik Jackson: “Brady is a whiner, who definitely throws temper tantrums.”
DE Antonio Smith, in response to Jackson’s jabs: “That would be an accurate statement. I’ve never seen any QB look to the ref right after he gets sacked more than Brady. He’s like, ‘you see him sack me? Was that supposed to happen? He did it a little hard. Please throw a 15-yard penalty on him. Get him fined.’
Don’t worry Tommy boy, I’ve got your quote right here:
“You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f****** fingers and say, "That's the bad guy."- Tony Montana, Scarface
Sometimes it’s fun to be the bad guy, especially when the bad guy is going for the jugular on Sunday afternoon. Pray for Denver.
Tom Brady: Over/Under 300 yards passing?
Niko: Brady threw for 280 on this defense without Edelman or Amendola in heavy snow just a few months back. So yeah, he’ll hit 300 here. Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is 2-5 in his career against Brady and allows TB to complete over 60% of his passes and throw for 311.9 yards a game. OVER.
Pete: Anyone that says under here is a FOOL. Like Niko said, Brady was able to throw for 280 yards with no Edelman, Amendola or Gronk in some pretty nasty weather. With temps excepted to be just north of 40 degrees and minimal chance for a snow storm, Brady should be fine in that particular department. As for his assets on the field, the Patriots haven't been this healthy since the beginning of the season. Aside from Dion Lewis, all of Brady's weapons are back and his offensive line, even without Nate Solder, really picked it up last game. OVER.
Matt: OVER. Brady has all his weapons back. He can throw the ball to Gronk, Jules, or Ammendola. The offensive line also picked up the slack last week and looked like a solid unit. The Denver defense might be without Chris Harris so Brady should be able to thow the ball anywhere down the field.
Steven Jackson: Over/Under 39 rushing yards?
Niko: UNDER. The traditional running game is a mere afterthought at this point in the season for our Pats. 6-yard outs to Edelman are far more effective and have just as high a success rate. I don’t envision Jackson playing a huge role moving forward, unless running the ball is an absolute necessity (clock kill, etc.).
Pete: To be honest, I was surprised to see Steven Jackson get any carries last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. I think McDaniels and the offense have finally realized that if they throw it 40-50 times a game, they can put 30+ points on the board with relative ease. Jackson is good, if not great, for goal-line situations, but don't expect to see the ball in his hands often come Sunday. UNDER.
Matt: UNDER. The Patriots should be game planning for an all out airiel attack against the overrated Denver defense. The Patriots also have the greatest quarterback to ever live, so why not use him. I really wanna see Stevan Jackson make a contribution to this team but I just don't think he fits the game plan. He has proven to this point that he still can gut out a 7-8 yard gain between the tackles so we'll have to see.
James White: Over/Under 55 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: White had an extremely limited passing game role the first time around in Denver in order to help the offensive line (1 yard rushing, 5 yards receiving), but will almost certainly have his number called this time. He’s had plays of 29 and 68 yards over the last few weeks and will look to break another one Sunday. I bet he does. OVER.
Pete: I'm not sure why, but Belichick and McDaniels just don't trust James White. If they did, we would see White as the featured back in an extremely pass-heavy offense. Unfortunately, White rarely touches the ball, but when he does, the young back is extremely effective. I hope that the Pats realize that they have Dion Lewis 2.0 (maybe 1.5) in the backfield again and he can be a solid contributor as the Pats march towards Super Bowl 50. OVER.
Matt: Jim White definitely is not Dion Lewis and he isn't even a fraction of what Shane Vereen meant to this team last year. That being said, he has made solid contributionds to the team late in the season. I'm gonna say UNDER just because Brandon Bolden has seen the first crack at the offensive snaps since Blount got injured.
Rob Gronkowski: Over/Under 5.5 catches, 80 receiving yards?
Niko: In the November matchup, Gronk had 6 catches on 10 targets for 88 yards and a touchdown. This was without Edelman stressing the defense over the middle of the field. Gronk should have another big one Sunday and I think he hits these marks again. OVER on both.
Pete: Last week, we saw the true for that is Rob Gronkowski in full effect. He was blocking, catching and scoring touchdowns. While Gronk may be the best redzone target that the Patriots have, he can still help move the chains when necessary. With Edelman and Amendola at 100%, the field opens up even more for the big fella. OVER.
Matt: OVER for both. Gronk might see the biggest effect of having Jules and Ammendola back. Those two open up the field for Gronk to make a big play down the seem. Last week Gronk did not show any signs of his back or knee issues so I expect the big fella to have a huge game.
Julian Edelman: Over/Under 7.5 catches, 72 receiving yards?
Niko: Jules played 51 of 58 snaps, caught 10 balls (on 16 targets!!!) for 100 yards in his return, even taking a handoff for 11 more. It could have been closer to 13-14 catches if Edelman didn’t drop a few early shaking off the rust. OVER on both, especially with Broncos corner Chris Harris Jr. expected to be limited with a bum shoulder.
Pete: I know it may be an exaggeration, but I truly believe that Edelman is the driving force to this Patriots offensive. Sure, Gronk helps them finish drives, but aside from Brady, no one may be as important to this offense than Jules. With Chris Harris as a game-time decision, even if he does play, he will be extremely limited. Who else would the Broncos put on Edelman? Talib? LOL. OVER.
Matt: Not only is Jules gonna go over on both of these categories, but Im taking the over on him being the first and fastest player out of the tunnel and onto the field. Lets gooooooooo.
Danny Amendola: Over/Under 4.5 catches, 42 receiving yards?
Niko: Because of the heavy dose of Edelman, I don’t think Amendola will garner enough targets to hit the catches mark (UNDER there), but I think he’ll get some good chunks of yards on an ill advised Wade Phillips blitz call or two. OVER on yards.
Pete: In my opinion, Danny Amendola is everything that you want in a Patriots player. When guys get hurt, he's there to take there place. When they are healthy again, he slots back down in the depth chart and does every necessary to win a game (like punt returns). He may not put up flashy numbers, but this offense would not be the same without Danny Amendola. UNDER on both.
Matt: UNDER on both. Ammendola has turned into a very dependable target for TB12 but his targets are going to decrease because of the return of Jules. I still believe he will make solid contributions to the offense, but short of 4.5 catches and 42 yards.
Brandon LaFell: Over/Under 3.5 catches, 39 receiving yards?
Niko: UNDER on both for JoJo. Brady will most likely look for more favorable matchups on Sunday.
Pete: I said it last week and I will say it again; SCREW THIS GUY.
Matt: I's so done with this guy like my colleagues above but I really hope he has a solid game because we're gonna need him in the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning: Over/Under 240 yards passing?
Niko: I don’t think it will be particularly pretty or efficient, but I’ll go OVER here for Manning. I anticipate the Pats jumping to an early lead, so Denver will be hard pressed to throw more than they want.
Pete: UNDER. A really good day for Peyton would be going 13-24 for 200 yards and a touchdown. I just don't think Peyton has it in him anymore to lead an offense up and down the field against a pretty formidable defense. UNDER. Can he do it for a quarter, however? Maybe....
Matt: UNDER. The real over under we should be monitoring is over/under 1.5 picks. I'd take the over. In all seriousness, if the Broncos fall behind early, they're gonna need to pass the ball and try to move the chains but noodle arm can only do much at this point in his career. Manning has struggled this year to have two decent game in a row.
Ronnie Hillman: Over/Under 59 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: UNDER. With Collins and Hightower both expected to suit up, I highly doubt Hillman and Anderson hit this mark. I’m opting with the latter.
Pete: The Patriots sure as hell hope he's UNDER. If the Broncos are able to run the ball down the Patriots' throats again, this game could end very similarly to when the two teams met in Week 12. Fortunately, Collins and Hightower are back. That makes all the difference in the world. UNDER.
CJ Anderson: Over/Under 59 yards from scrimmage?
Niko: OVER. Anderson has improved since the season has progressed and has had a good deal of success against the Patriots in the past, including 113 yards on the ground and 40 yards through the air week 12.
Pete: One guy is going to have a big game and go off for the Broncos. My guess is its Anderson. OVER.
Matt: If Manning is not moving the chains, than someone is gonna have to. This is also very dependent on how healthy Collins and Hightower are. Based on their recent health, I'm gonna say that Anderson goes OVER.
Owen Daniels: Over/Under 3.5 catches, 36 receiving yards?
Niko: Daniels always seems to make timely plays against the Pats. Whether it was for Houston, Balty, or now Denver, Daniels has stepped up when Kubiak needs him most. I think he’ll make some plays in this one, as he’s proven himself as a more consistent contributor than the other tight ends, Vernon Davis or Virgil Green. OVER on catches, UNDER on yards.
Pete: The patriots do a fantastic job of not letting tight ends beat them down the field. Don't believe me? Look at Travis Kelce's numbers from last week: 6 catches for 23 yards. That isn't going to bring home the bacon. UNDER.
Matt: Patrick Chung has done an incredible job this season covering the opposing teams tight ends. I expect him to continue to play well and shut down Daniels.
Demaryius Thomas: Over/Under 6.5 catches, 79 receiving yards?
Niko: In a word, my observation for Thomas after watching him extensively the first time around was SOFT. Logan Ryan won this matchup in a shockingly one-sided manner. I see Thomas playing a lot better this time around, one because he simply can’t play worse, but also because the before mentioned Ryan hasn’t been playing as well as of late. I still don’t think he’ll hit these marks. UNDER on both.
Pete: With likely double coverage on Manny Sanders, Demaryius Thomas is either going to be matched up one-on-one with Logan Ryan or Malcolm Butler. My guess is that the Pats put Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty on Sanders, while Malcolm Butler is left to cover Thomas. While there is a big height disadvantage, there is also a big BALLS differential between the two players. Butler is a BAD man. He will be trash-talking Thomas all day, and I don't think that he(Thomas) has the mental fortitude to stick around all game. UNDER.
Matt: Thomas is such a soft reciever. The last time these teams met, Thomas made our #2 corner Logan Ryan look like a star. Ryan is turning into a decent corner but he is not a star. I think Thomas will have a better game than last time but he will still not get to the over/ under numbers but barely. UNDER.
Emmanuel Sanders: Over/Under 5.5 catches, 75 receiving yards?
Niko: Manny had 6 for 113 the first matchup, and seems to have established himself as the engine that makes this team’s passing game work. I think Butler gets the matchup and definitely has his work cut out for him. Slightly OVER on both.
Pete: Emmanuel Sanders is the engine that powers the Denver Broncos. If he isn't going, the Broncos are going to have a tough time moving the ball down the field. As I said before, I think that the Pats are going to double team this guy. They have to. If that the case, he is going to be UNDER, but only slightly.
Matt: It really depends on the matchup the denfense wants to play. Either they're gonna double cover Thomas or Sanders. If Sanders has a one on one matchup with Butler, I see Manning challenging that matchup and getting the over, but if they double him, I do not see him doing much. I think Sanders will be the guy to see double coverage and therefore be UNDER.
Niko: Julian Edelman vs. Chris Harris Jr./Bradley Roby
With the aforementioned Harris expected to be limited, this could be a big advantage for the Patriots. I think Talib/Ward will get the Gronk assignment, leaving Harris when in, and Bradley Roby on #11. If TB12 can continue to get the ball out in under 2 seconds, Von Miller and the rest of the Denver pass rushers’ effectiveness will be negated.
Pete: The Patriots Defense vs. the Denver Running Game
While I understand where Niko is coming from, I don't think the Patriots are going to have a tough time moving the ball against the Broncos. Their offense is just too good. However, if the Pats aren't able to stop the running game for the Broncos, this could turn into a shootout. I know that in Week 12 the Pats didn't have Hightower or Collins, but the Broncos were able to run the ball all over the field. In this matchup, I want the Patriots to dare Gary Kubiak to make Peyton Manning beat the Patriots.
Matt: Pats defense vs. Manning
Like I've said all year, I am very big on this Patriots defense. I love the way they get to the quarterback, I love the way the linebackers play, and I love how Butler has become one of the premier defenders in the league. I wanna say the Pats defense sacks manning 2 times and picks him off at least once.
Niko: I’ll go outside the box here and predict Scott “Stone Hands” Chandler to return from the dead and contribute on Sunday. In the first matchup, Chandler had a season high 5 catches (on 11 targets) for 58 yards and a touchdown. I’ll say Chandler gets 30+ yards on two catches and a score.
Pete: This may be a little too bold, but I think we are going to have a Brock Osweiler sighting at Mile High. He has been limited these past couple of days/weeks with a shoulder injury, but if the Donkeys are down by 10 points at the half and Denver is having a tough time moving the football, they will have to play their hearts out because someone is going home this weekend.
Matt: Pats fend off the ghosts of playing in Denver and win in convincing fasion. Brady has himself a game throwing for 4 touchdowns as the Patriots move onto Super Bowl 50.
Game Total: Over/Under 44 total points?
Niko: Vegas knows what they’re doing. I’ve been going back and forth on this line all week, but have finally settled on OVER. It’ll be right in the mid/high-forties.
Pete: OVER. The Pats' offense is just too good. Denver should also be able to get their fair share of points if the running game is moving the ball.
Matt: OVER. Pats put up 30 by themselves.
Niko: 30-17 Pats. At the end of the day, the Patriots should be too much for Denver to handle. The Broncos’ defense can be exposed, and when things don’t go well, they self-destruct. At this stage in his career, I don’t think Manning can physically make the throws to keep up, even at Mile High. I expect Brady to go to his record 7th Super Bowl, and the Pats to get #oneforthethumb. Can’t wait ‘til Sunday, get your popcorn ready.
Pete: 30-16 Patriots. I think this game may be close for a quarter and a half, but the Patriots aren't going to screw this one up. They have a golden opportunity to make it to the Super Bowl and cement themselves as one of the best dynasties in all of professional sports. LONG LIVE BRADY.
Matt: 31-20. Patriots control the game from the start dominating in all aspects of the game before giving up a few garbage time scores as usual for Patriots football.