AFC title game: Patriots at Broncos
3, Mile High Stadium, Denver | Ch. 13; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM | Broncos by 51/2, 57
Two of the NFL's best-known stars square off for the 15th time. Tom Brady is 10-4 against Peyton Manning, but Manning has homefield in his favor. Brady has the NFL quarterback records for postseason games (25) and wins (18).
Weather: 50s, winds of about 13 mph, no chance of rain
What the Patriots do best
Win in the postseason under Bill Belichick. The only coach with more playoff wins is Don Shula, and Belichick can match his 20 today. The Patriots are 7-3 in AFC title games, and Brady's 6,147 postseason passing yards are the most in NFL history. Manning is second with 5,909.
What the Broncos do best
Reset records behind Manning's prolific offense. Five Broncos — Knowshon Moreno, DeMaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker — scored at least 10 touchdowns. Half the teams in the league didn't have one. Julian Edelman led New England with six.
How you beat the Patriots
Put them on the road. Their four road wins came against the Bills, Falcons, Texans and Ravens, who averaged just five wins. And make Brady throw a lot. He had at least 38 attempts in all four losses but has had it easy lately — 26 or fewer and fewer than 200 yards in his past three wins.
How you beat the Broncos
Use the Chargers as a model. They held Denver to its two fewest point totals of 2013: 20 in a win and 24 in last week's loss. Let's say 30 points is a goal. Only three teams did that, but two won. Denver is 13-1 when allowing 28 points or fewer.
Game's top offensive player
You have to go with Manning: 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, statistically the most productive season in NFL history. Over his past three games, he has 10 touchdowns and one interception. But the Patriots have a league-high four picks in the playoffs.
Game's top defensive player
Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib is the only defensive All-Pro in this game. His four interceptions are as many as in his three previous seasons combined. However, Talib can't stop Manning from finding a mismatch on his third or fourth read.
The Broncos must avoid ...
Say, giving up a 24-point second-half lead, like they did in Week 12 at New England. Chances are Denver won't get up that big, but how well it plays with a lead — running the ball, limiting turnovers — will go a long way toward making the Super Bowl.
Greg Auman's pick
Broncos 38, Patriots 35