From Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
US time: Sunday, January 24 from 3pm
AUS time: Monday, January 25 from 7am
TWO old foes do battle once again in the AFC Championship game.
The Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Colorado for the right to play off for the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl 50.
Both teams were underwhelming in their divisional match-ups and can count themselves lucky to still be in the hunt.
The Patriots led early against the Chiefs, but left the door open for them to storm back into the contest.
If it was not for their ineptitude on the offensive side – especially in their inability to manage the clock effectively – the Chiefs could be the team playing the Broncos on Sunday night rather than the Patriots.
Trailing by 14 points and all three timeouts remaining, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid believed they would have been in good shape if they had recovered the onside kick – one of the lowest percentage plays in all of football.
“I thought we handled it right,” Reid said.
“You give us a minute on the clock and three timeouts, we feel like we can move the ball pretty good.”
Denver were even less convincing than the Patriots in their game against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh were missing their best wide receiver in Antonio Brown and their best running back in Le’Veon Bell, but still managed to lead the Broncos in Denver deep into the fourth quarter.
Returning quarterback Peyton Manning was poor for long stretches throughout the game but a pivotal 30 yard throw late in the game set up the game-winning touchdown.
The general consensus is that the Broncos will need to be significantly better on Sunday night if they are to progress through to Superbowl 50.
Manning himself said the transition from being the main man on the offensive end to sharing the load across the park has been a tough one for him, but something that is a work in progress.
“No question a lot has happened this season that’s been very different for me than any other season that I’ve played in 18 years,” Manning said.
“Staying patient, taking it slow, one week at a time, that has certainly helped me.”
The Broncos upset the Patriots upset the Patriots in overtime last time the teams met, a match which saw rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler calling the shots on offense.
Sunday will see the last chapter in one of the biggest rivalries in NFL history with Peyton Manning facing off against Tom Brady for the last time ever.
Odds provided by Sportsbet.com.au
Winner: Denver Broncos – $2.50
Long-time rivals meet in the AFC Championship game – Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos host Tom Brady’s New England Patriots for the right to progress through to Superbowl 50.
It is a renewing of hostilities between arguably the two best quarterbacks of the modern era in a match that could define the legacy of both players.
The Patriots started the season as overwhelming favourites to go back-to-back after winning their first ten games in a row, but after injuries and losses of form question marks remain over whether they have what it takes to even make this year’s Superbowl.
Denver may have ended the season in first place in the AFC but at no point have they looked like the best team in the division this season.
A debilitating injury to veteran quarterback Peyton Manning left the Broncos without their star playmaker for the majority of the season, but he is back at the right time to lead the charge towards Super Bowl 50.
While he was far from his best in the divisional match up against the Steelers, Manning has a Superbowl MVP to his name and knows what it takes to get the job done when it matters most.
The big question will be whether or not the Broncos can stop the rampaging Patriot offence.
Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have been terrific targets for Tom Brady throughout the year, but Denver’s terrific pass rush defence will limit the amount of time Brady has to make decisions.
It looms as a fascinating contest and one that is incredibly hard to predict.
The home ground advantage and the superior defence should allow the Broncos to strangle the Patriots into submission enough for Manning and his offence to go about their business without the weight of having to chase points for the majority of the match like they had to last week.
Expect Manning to recapture his very best form and make his NFL swansong one to remember at Superbowl 50.