New England Patriots
Streak: Won 3
All-time vs. Denver: 19-25-0
Last time: Patriots 34, Broncos 31 - OT (11/24/13)
The Line: Broncos by 4.5
"Tom Brady has been an outstanding quarterback for such a long time but next week's game is the Broncos versus the Patriots," said Denver's Peyton Manning. "I know there will be some individual matchups that will get headlines but it will be a battle between two good teams."
RB LeGarrette Blount. The first three touchdowns Blount scored Sunday weren't terribly impressive. It was the 73-yarder, the nail in the Comeback Colts' coffin, that sealed his performance as a memorable one for New England. Blount finished with 166 yards on the day and a 6.9 average. Take away that 73-yarder and his average was still decent -- 4.0 yards per carry.
"Once I get into the open field, they're going to have to chase me," Blount said after New England's victory. "And if they catch me, they do. And if they don't, they don't. They usually don't."
QB Tom Brady. It's odd putting the future Hall of Famer in this spot, but it's a function of his Patriots being a complete team that is playing good football from top to bottom. This is what you should expect, heading into a Conference Championship Game, and the Broncos better be ready for it. Brady didn't play poorly in the Patriots' divisional round game against the Colts, but he definitely played below his standards. The Colts were able to limit him to a 52.0% completion percentage and 78.4 passer rating thanks to consistent pressure. Brady only completed 2 of 7 passes when under pressure, and 4 of 10 when blitzed, which is a formula the Broncos must try to replicate to protect their depleted secondary this Sunday.
Matchup to Watch
Broncos WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker vs. Patriots CBs Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. It's rare for the Broncos' receivers to be challenged the way the Patriots' cornerbacks are capable of challenging them. Talib and Dennard, when healthy, have been a great duo for New England. Last week, Dennard hauled in two interceptions, and only allowed two completions on 10 targets. Against the Broncos in Week 12, the two combined to only allow Manning four completions in Peyton's worst game of his 2013 campaign.
What are your early thoughts heading into Sunday's contest, and what matchup are you watching most closely?