This one has been on the calendar since the second that two point conversion failed. Hats off to Denver. They got the job done. Noodle Arm didn’t make any backbreaking mistakes, and Von Miller and his fellow pass rushers played as dominant a game as we’ve seen. Broncos’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips coached every play like it was 3rd and 9, and unfortunately, the McOffense was backed into a corner. A depleted O-line and the corpse of Steven Jackson spearheaded the running game. As a testament to his toughness, Brady made it through that game. Anytime he dropped back, he took shot after shot. It was as mortal as we’ve seen him, and in turn the offense. The good news? This Patriots team is far better equipped to go into Mile High and dictate the game, and in many ways, the Broncos are searching for their identity. They honestly have better quarterback play this time around, but can’t run the ball or stop the run. Rushing the passer and coverage are still obviously major strengths. The Pats has settled in with some continuity and improved offensive line play, and in turn, have put together an above average rushing attack. The defense has built some momentum in the coming weeks. Talk is cheap. Let’s strap ‘em up. Mile High here we come.
Let’s see what the BBS Staff thinks of this massive AFC Championship rematch…
Tom Brady: Over/Under 310 yards passing?
Niko: Denver’s pass defense is ranked, bar none, the best in football. Their running defense is 29th. Hammer Blount early and often, break their backs with the play action. UNDER here for TB, but efficient and surgical.
Pete: UNDER. Unless the Patriots completely change the game plan the idea should be to run the football down the Broncos' throats. With Brandon Marshall out, the Broncos are missing their best run-defender on defense. With Chris Harris and Aqib Talib manning the secondary, it would be wise for the Patriots to limit how many times they sling the ball through the air.
Jordan: I'm going to have to go with UNDER here as well. TB12 isn't going to struggle, because it doesn't seem like that's possible for him this year. But liker Niko alluded to in the intro to these lines, the Patriots had a banged up O-Line and a terrible shell of Steven Jackson. This year, the O-Line has been phenomenal and Blount is healthy and playing a pro bowl RB.
LeGarrette Blount: Over/Under 67 yards rushing?
Niko: See the Brady bit above. Denver was able to unleash the hounds at 12 last season in the shotgun and tee off because of the absence of any semblance of a running game. That’s far from the case this season, with Blount and the O-line impressing more and more every week. The weather is turning, LGB is picking up steam. Expect a balanced attack. OVER.
Pete: OVER. Blount should bully this team. He is arguably having his best season of his career and has been pretty damn efficient in the red zone. Last season, Tom Brady was the leading rushing with 13 (!) yards in the AFC Championship Game and he took an absolute beating because of it. Expect Blount to have a solid day and set up the play action pass.
Jordan: OVER for Blount. The Pats had to basically eliminate the run game last year in the playoffs for the reason both Niko and I have previously mentioned. Blount is having the best season of his career, and I expect him to continue that trend with a strong game against the Broncos, who most likely won't have their best run-stuffer, Brandon Marshall.
Who has more yards from scrimmage: Dion Lewis or James White?
Niko: I’ve been high on James White for a while now, and expected him to remain involved even with the return of Lewis. I didn’t, however, expect him to still be the primary 3rd down back at this point, as he was last week against the Ravens. I’m going to actually roll with Dion here, whom I think will do his damage on the ground as well. Expect both to be integral parts of the game plans moving forward. Can’t go wrong with either.
Pete: I will roll with James White here, as well. Dion Lewis just hasn't looked like himself since coming back from that nasty ACL injury. Whether that be the Patriots limiting him or he simply isn't the player he once was, it will be interesting to see how the Pats use these two backs, considering they are mostly used in the passing game.
Jordan: Like Niko said, James White was the primary 3rd down back last week. I think White will continue to be used and abused so the Pats can unleash Dion Lewis in his entirety in the playoffs. James White will have more yards, in my opinion.
Julian Edelman: Over/Under 7.5 receptions, 72 receiving yards?
Niko: Edelman had 7 and 73 last week on 15 targets. His night was riddled with ups and downs, with drive-killing drops early and key conversions late. Expected to attract All-Pro corner Chris Harris on Sunday, let’s go just UNDER on both for Jules.
Pete: UNDER on both for me, as well. Edelman has been pretty vanilla these past couple of weeks, which is contrary to his stats. Sure, he had a great statistical game, but 7-for-15 on catches is not gonna cut it, especially with how many drops we saw from him last week.
Jordan: Edelman, sans Amendola, has attracted a lot more targets in recent weeks. However, he struggled last week in the freezing cold Gillette environment. This week, he's got the cold Denver weather to deal with. Expect him to, like last week, get going late when he's needed most. But I'll go just UNDER here as well.
Martellus Bennett: Over/Under 3.5 receptions, 55 yards receiving?
Niko: It was extremely encouraging to see “Mr. Take Yo Pizza” back stuffing the stat sheet. I don’t think the Broncos have a matchup for him. OVER on both.
Pete: OVER on receptions, UNDER on yards. I'd be surprised if any receiver is flirting with this many receiving yards, unless someone rips off for a big one.
Jordan: Bennett finally made some plays last week against the Ravens. Could he finally be healthy enough to rely on him? Let's hope so. It's a mystery who the Broncos will match up against Marty. OVER on both.
Who has more receiving yards: Malcolm Mitchell or Chris Hogan?
Niko: Simple: whoever sees less of Aqib Talib. Tough to predict, but given Hogan’s big play ability, let’s assume he does. I’ll roll with the rookie Mitchell. It is so unbelievably impressive how he’s been able to gain the notoriously tough to crack Brady’s trust over the last few weeks.
Pete: I'm gonna stick with Malcolm Mitchell as well. He has been incredibly efficient when relied upon by Tom Brady. Chris "Crazy Eyes" Hogan is good for a 50-yarder here and there, but I don't think he will rip off a big run this week.
Jordan: Last week I went with Money Mitch and a 79 yard TD to Hogan basically left me eating my words. The recent emergence of Chris Hogan should warrant him the tougher matchup in Aqib Talib. So for that, I'll go with Mitchell again. Wouldn't feel a bit surprised if Hogan does, though.
Trevor Siemian: Over/Under 265 yards passing?
Niko: Siemian is only averaging 248.2 a game, but that number is skewed because of an injury that knocked him out with only 68 against the Bucs. He’s also picked up 334 and 368 respectively in the last two outings. Unable to rely on the inconsistent running game, he’ll hit this mark. OVER.
Pete: I'm gonna be different. UNDER. Siemian is still nursing that injury and the Patriots defense have been playing out of their minds lately.
Jordan: I'll go with over as well on Siemian. I actually like him; he's nothing too special, but he keeps it simple and really can put the ball on the numbers. And with the Patriots secondary still being a question mark, in regards to who will cover who, I'll go with OVER.
Who has more rushing yards: Devontae Booker or Justin Forsett?
Niko: Kubiak brought Forsett back for a reason. 4th round rookie Booker has greatly underperformed since assuming the starting role with the injury to CJ Anderson (average rushes of .3, 1.9, 3.3, 3.2, 2.2, and 2.8 over the last six games), and Justin ran extremely well for the head coach during their Baltimore days together. I’ll go with the veteran Forsett to receive the higher volume and translate it into more production.
Pete: I love me some Devontae Booker. I scouted him heavily during this past year's draft and was hoping the Pats would take a flier on him. He's similar to Blount in a lot of ways as he loves to absorb contact; he's just not as tall. I don't think either back will particularly hurt the Patriots, as they've been pretty decent against the run this season.
Jordan: Forsett will easily get the bulk of the carries on Sunday, therefore he should wind up with more yards. However, the Pats run defense has been stellar as of late, I don't expect either to have much of an impact.
Demaryius Thomas: Over/Under 6.5 receptions, 75.5 yards?
Niko: Thomas’ two games against the Pats last season: 1 for 36 (on 13 targets!!!) and 2 for 12 (on 7 targets). UNDER.
Pete: UNDER on both. I am interested to see who will take Thomas this week, as, in my opinion, Emmanuel Sanders in the bigger threat to the Patriots. I am assuming Logan Ryan will get the call this week, but I still think he will have a solid game for the Pats.
Jordan: Assuming Logan Ryan takes this matchup, as Butler tends to struggle some against bigger and strong receivers, I'll go with OVER on both. Here's why: while Thomas struggled against NE last year, he also faced the good Logan Ryan. Ryan has been shoddy this year to say the least, this all depends on what Ryan we see on Sunday.
Emmanuel Sanders: Over/Under 6.5 receptions, 75.5 yards?
Niko: Manny brings it week in and week out. With Butler potentially slowed by a balky hip that has limited him in practice, expect Sanders to get close here. I’ll go UNDER on receptions, OVER on yards.
Pete: OVER on receptions, UNDER on yards. Malcolm Butler and Emmanuel Sanders will be battling it out all game. He should be able to get his usual key catches and move the chains, but I doubt Butler lets him go off.
Jordan: UNDER/OVER for me here. Even if Butler has that mini hip injury, he's still going to go balls to the wall for this team. However, he's always prone to get burned once a week, and Sanders is more reliable than a lot of the ones NE has faced this season.
Von Miller: Over/Under .5 sacks?
Niko: Von Miller is a force. I don’t need to remind you of that. We all watched the playoffs last season and saw it first hand. That being said, this Pats O-line is much improved and Brady’s release is the quickest in football. You can bet the focus is going to be on slowing him down, and he’ll have to account for a running game. UNDER.
Pete: UNDER. The Patriots' offensive line has been absolutely incredible this season. I have no reason to believe they won't be able to continue that, regardless of who is lining up on the other side of the football. With this primarily being a run-first game (I hope), Martellus Bennett will likely play a key role in double teaming Miller. Like many great defenders, Miller has a tendency to be not as effective if you run right at him. Look for the Pats to go right at him.
Jordan: Brady has only taken 2 sacks in the past 4 weeks, I think. The Pats O-Line has been phenomenal this season, and I'm interested to see if Marcus Cannon is pissed off about the AFC Championship game, where Von Miller cooked him time and time again. I'll go with UNDER here as well, with Miller being the biggest area of focus for the Pats.
Niko: Chris Harris vs. Julian Edelman. Pro Bowl corner vs. Pro Bowl wide out and Brady’s favorite target. Most likely Mano A Mano. Line ‘em up and play ball.
Pete: Blount vs. that Denver linebacking core. With a depleted unit, Blount should feast.
Jordan: Cannon vs. Von Miller. Assuming that's the matchup. Last year, Cannon got worked so bad that Pats fans were wanting them to leave him in Denver after the AFC title game. Have to hope Cannon isn't all hype and can actually shut down an elite pass-rusher like Von Miller.
Niko: Denver gets down early and picks a classless fight…oh, never mind, this is a bold prediction. Dion Lewis has his breakout game, with 70 yards from scrimmage and a visit to the end zone.
Pete: This is really going out there, but I think Cyrus Jones has a damn good game in some capacity. Whether that is playing slot corner or special teams, I think he breaks out of his funk and shows everyone why he was drafted with the Patriots' first pick.
Jordan: SG3 finally looks like the kicker he has been his whole career, ole' reliable. I say Gostkowski hits all of his FGs/PATs, including at least 1 from 50+ yards.
Game Total: Over/Under 44 points?
Niko: It’s going to be tight, but I’m going just OVER here. It’s tough not to feel good about the Patriots offensive unit, who seem to be reaching an equilibrium point without Gronk. Denver more formidable in the secondary than Baltimore, but their run defense is not as stout. Plus, between Sanders and Thomas, they should be able to find the end zone themselves.
Pete: OVER as well. The Patriots' offense is cooking, even without Gronk and Amendola. Denver will struggle to get points, however.
Jordan: I'll go with just OVER here. It seems as though the Pats are just fine offensively without Gronkowski, still putting up a ton of good drives ending in scores. With the Pats defense looking really good as of late, it all really depends on what they show.
Final Prediction (New England -3):
Niko: Losing to this team in the AFC Championship last season was completely and utterly devastating. On a smaller stage, but at the same place, Brady and co get their revenge and stick a fork in the Broncos’ playoff hopes. Patriots 28-17.
Pete: Make no mistake about it, this is NOT last year's Broncos squad. Sure, they have a similar looking team and are probably getting better quarterback play than they were last season, but they have too many missing players on defense for me to think they will be able to challenge the BEST TEAM IN ALL OF FOOTBALL. 31-17 Pats.
Jordan: I like the Pats' chances here. Last year in the regular season, they had to adapt to life without Gronk on the fly, and in the playoffs they had no O-Line or RB. This year, they've gotten used to life without Gronk, as well as putting a reliable O-Line in front of Brady. Oh, and Blount has been a beast. Pats win 30-17.