Sports

Blasberg ’18: Chapter 16 — Manning vists Brady in chilly Foxborough

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, October 31, 2014

In January’s AFC Championship game, Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos galloped all over the New England Patriots, who searched the entire game for a spark but came up empty-handed. Embarrassed on the biggest stage of their season, the Patriots now seek redemption, and Sunday is just the time for them to get it.

Sunday, the Denver Broncos (6-1) fly to Gillette Stadium to meet the Patriots (6-2) for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s 16th head-to-head matchup. Brady has won eight of the 11 regular season games, while the two have split their playoff bouts two apiece. A decisive win this week could give either team the momentum necessary for a strong playoff run.

Let’s be clear: Both the Broncos and Patriots are on fire right now. Both teams have won four straight, and in doing so, they have put fear in the hearts of every defensive roster in the NFL. Over the past four games, the Patriots have averaged a whopping 39.5 points per game, while the Broncos have posted an average of 37.

Both teams’ outstanding offensive production is a product of remarkable play from their quarterbacks. Manning leads the league with a 119.0 quarterback rating; Brady is fifth with a rating of 104.7. Both quarterbacks have played spectacular football over the last four weeks — expect more of the same on Sunday.

The Patriots have a key edge in this game: They are playing in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots are 4-0 at home this year, and they have a 13-game home winning streak that dates back to 2012. They have won the last three bouts with Manning and the last four against the Broncos in Foxborough.

On top of the Patriots’ proclivity for winning at home, the forecast calls for rain or maybe snow Sunday, with temperatures dropping below 40 degrees. Manning is 8-11 in his career in games in which the kickoff temperature is less than 40 degrees. Brady, on the other hand, has a record of 40-6 in such conditions. Remember when the Patriots came back to beat the Broncos in overtime during last year’s regular season? How about the 2005 divisional playoff game when the Patriots held Manning’s Colts to three points on their way to another Super Bowl win? The bottom line is that the colder and wetter the weather gets, the more trouble Peyton Manning will have throwing the football.

The way I see it, though, the deciding factor Sunday will be the performance of the Patriots’ offensive line. The Broncos offensive line does not need to be stellar. Last season, at 2.33 seconds, Peyton Manning had the least average time between receiving the snap and releasing the ball. So, the Broncos’ offensive line has a relatively easy job protecting him, as Manning has only been sacked eight times this season.

As we saw earlier this year, the performance of the Patriots’ offensive line is much more crucial to the team’s success. The Patriots were 2-2 over the first four games, and during that span, Brady was pressured on over 30 percent of his dropbacks. But recent personnel adjustments on the line have proven fruitful, as Brady’s productivity has skyrocketed over the past four weeks. A strong offensive line also allows Brady to utilize play-action passes, which require more time for the quarterback than conventional pass plays, but often allow Brady to throw the ball downfield.

This Sunday, in what may be a preview of this season’s AFC Championship game, the Brady-Manning rivalry continues with a game that is pivotal for both teams. If the Patriots offensive line can protect Brady and give him enough time to throw the ball, expect a win from the Patriots. My prediction: 28-20 Patriots.

Charlie Blasberg ’18 is considering starting Brandon LaFell over Demaryius Thomas this week in fantasy football. Convince him otherwise at charles_blasberg@brown.edu.

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