Posted January 17, 2014

The Playbook: Previewing Broncos-Patriots, Seahawks-49ers

AFC East, AFC West, New England Patriots, NFC West, NFL Playoffs, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks

Tom Brady (top) is 10-4 lifetime against Peyton Manning, but has yet to face Manning in Denver.

Tom Brady (12) is 10-4 lifetime against Peyton Manning but has yet to face him in Denver. (Winslow Townson/SI)

Chris Burke and Doug Farrar get you ready for the weekend with The Playbook, a detailed weekly preview that gives you everything you need to know about the upcoming slate of games.

No. 2 New England at No. 1 Denver — 3 p.m. ET (CBS): The edge in the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry lies firmly with the Patriots’ quarterback. He’s now 10-4, counting the postseason, against his fellow future Hall of Famer, with win No. 10 coming in dramatic fashion as the Patriots stormed back from a 24-0 deficit in Week 12 to upend the Broncos by seven.

If there is any carryover from the quarterbacks’ history against each other when Denver and New England meet in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, it could come in the form of confidence gained by the Patriots in rallying for that regular-season win. Of course, Brady and company would prefer to avoid falling into a huge hole altogether, especially on the road. (Brady has yet to face a Manning-led Broncos team in Denver.) 

MORE COVERAGE: Picks | Keys to victory | How Broncos, Pats get wideouts open

To accomplish that goal New England may turn back to its suddenly vibrant run game, led by the unexpected reemergence of LeGarrette Blount. The ex-Buccaneer, acquired in a throwaway trade during last offseason (Blount for Jeff Demps and a seventh-rounder), scored four touchdowns on 166 yards rushing in the Patriots’ 43-22 divisional-round win over Indianapolis. Stevan Ridley also found the end zone twice for the Patriots, who needed just 198 yards passing from Brady to roll.

Brady may opt to take to the air more Sunday against a banged-up Broncos defense. The latest setback: Chris Harris’ ACL tear, suffered last week. Denver struggled badly with Harris out of the lineup, replacing him with Quentin Jammer, who was burned a couple of times as San Diego attempted a second-half comeback.

The Patriots remain Rob Gronkowski-less, but Brady still has the eternally underrated Julian Edelman at his disposal, along with Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins.

The names on Denver’s wide receiver depth chart are far more imposing: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. Add in emerging tight end Julius Thomas, and it’s not hard to see how Manning set NFL records for both passing yards and passing touchdowns this season.

The attention defenses must pay to all of those weapons also helps explain how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball have found room to accelerate Denver’s rushing attack. Moreno topped the 1,000-yard mark this season, and Denver rushed for 133 yards in its win last weekend. That backfield tandem may not be the go-to option for a pass-heavy offense, but Moreno and Ball are capable of keeping the Patriots defense honest … or burning it if it’s not.

Will either team be able to pressure the other’s quarterback? The answer to that question may dictate how this one shakes out. The Patriots finished fifth in the league with 48 sacks; the Broncos tied for 13th at 41. In a game that figures to go down to the wire, one rush-induced turnover could change the tide. – Chris Burke

The Pick:

Chris Burke: Denver 34, New England 31
Doug Farrar: New England 27, Denver 23

Two-Minute Drill

Matchup to Watch: Julian Edelman vs. Champ Bailey/Quentin Jammer.

Just as the Patriots do not employ Edelman strictly out of the slot (he spends about half his time there), the Broncos likely will not attack Brady’s top receiver with just one defender now that Harris is unavailable. Instead, count on Denver to mix and match its coverages — dropping Jammer into the slot, lining up Bailey versus Edelman and using Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out wide.

New England will look to exploit the moments when Jammer and Bailey draw the Edelman assignment. And, true to Brady/Bill Belichick form, the passing attack could cycle through Edelman until the Broncos show they can prevent such an occurrence.

• Pressure’s on … : Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver.

The Broncos have not always held up well against the run this season. Knighton ensured they got the job done in the divisional round against San Diego’s attack (though an injury to Ryan Mathews helped). As mentioned above, the shifting face of the Patriots offense could mean a lot more run plays than the casual observer might expect. If it’s working for Blount and Ridley to pound Denver between the tackles, the Patriots will be able to control the clock, keep Manning on the sideline and open up space downfield for an occasional shot.

Should Knighton and Malik Jackson generate some push, on the other hand, the Patriots might be reduced to a one-dimensional attack. Given the lack of threats in New England’s passing game, that sort of variable would put a load of heat on Brady.

• This Week’s Sleeper: Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots.

With Blount taking on a starring role and Ridley churning out carries, Vereen has slid into the background of New England’s offense. That all could change Sunday if the Patriots decide to attack the Broncos through the air because it’s in the passing game that the versatile Vereen really shines. His ability to line up as a receiver outside helps his team offset its talent deficiency at wideout. Don’t be surprised if Vereen sees plenty of snaps — and quite a few targets from Brady — on Sunday.

• Rookie Spotlight: Montee Ball, RB, Broncos.

Moreno has reclaimed his spot as the No. 1 back in Denver, but there has been room for Ball nonetheless. Should the Broncos stake themselves to a second-half lead, they’ll do what they can to wear down the Patriots up front. Though Ball may not be front and center on that approach, he should see several key carries. – CB

12 comments
GOOGLE ......Mae Brussel
GOOGLE ......Mae Brussel

Boomer  - - and you were such a great one too - - not !  


And you make even a worse broadcaster  ! ! !


oh, and BTW - -  We Seattleites  love love love being hated by haters   !  !  


It's    ALL   GOOD

Jamm90
Jamm90

Steeler fan here, living in the bay for a long time now so i have a lot of love for the niners also, but ill root for seattle in the super bowl if it comes to that. I would hate to see one of the nfl's golden boys win another super bowl. I don't like richard sherman, he's a great corner, but has no respect for anybody and talks way too much. However i don´t have anything against the other seattle players. earl thomas, wilson, lynch, bobby wagner all seem  likable dudes, and seattle plays a hard nosed brand of football that some of us enjoy. Carrol, is a coach I've always respected for his approach to coaching, laid back and easygoing, but at the same time he always has his guys ready to play. I still think the Niners come out on top, Harbaugh has shown he's great at making adjustments, and he's been there and done that before. I also think the niners defense is ready and motivated, they're not going to let lynch get going, and seattle's receivers don't scare anybody. I'm going SF 20-17 with a Boldin catch late to set up the game winning FG.

MickHayes
MickHayes

Always wondered about the relevance of career head to head stats when every year a third of a team's personnel changes.  It's like the U.S Open winner "defending " on a different golf course.

Starstruck
Starstruck

Peter King's review and prediction was so bad that he didn't even allow comments. 'I'm sticking with my preseason picks for the SB' does not cut it without substantial logic to back it up. Brady is a clutch QB in the postseason? Eli begs to differ. Seattle's (unfair) noise factor makes them unbeatable? Ask the AZ Cardinals about that. Pats/Hawks could be the SB teams, but hardly because of King's logic. I don't really like the Pats, but 95% of the country has grown weary of the Seahawk's braggadocio. Who would have guessed that people who hate the Pats , hate the Seahawks more. 

Rick56
Rick56

Keep Wilson in the pocket and he won't be able to pass...advantage for the Niners.

schmitty42
schmitty42

One difference for the Niners. In both games in Seattle they were short on receiving weapons. Last year Manningham & Davis went out, leaving only Crabtree. This year Crabtree was out, from the start and Davis went out during the game. Kaepernick has played really well when Boldin, Davis & Crabtree are on the field, and that includes games @Carolina, @Arizona, and against Seattle.

PDXbruce
PDXbruce

One factor in the NFC game that nobody seems to be talking about is Colin Kaepernick's miserable job of managing the play clock. I'm a long-time 49ers fan and his performance at the line of scrimmage is frequently cringe-worthy. In that stadium on Sunday with the Super Bowl on the line it's only going to be more difficult than it was during their regular season game. A couple of delay of game penalties and a few wasted timeouts could be an enormous factor in who wins a close game. 

jimbohead
jimbohead

"Neither the Seahawks nor the 49ers have many impact rookies in their 2013 draft classes [...]"

Eric Reid begs to differ. Took over from Goldson as a day 1 starter, did a better job than 2012 Goldson over the course of the year.

Mark20
Mark20

@StarstruckYeah coming from 0-24 down, Pats beat the Broncos in regular season. Brady sure is not clutch.

Matthew W
Matthew W

@Starstruck 

LOL!

Brady is Webster's definition of clutch compared to the Manning brother he's playing tomorrow. Heck, Eli rode a pass rush and a once in a million years catch to beat Brady....no one would call Eli clutch. 

Starstruck
Starstruck

@PDXbruce You do know that he has to listen to the plays called into him until 15 seconds remain on the play clock.  The responsibility is on the coaches to minimize the confusion for Kap with a lot of indecisive nonsense. Who knows how much of his problem is due to Roman reciting a bunch of confusing options and defensive reads.