Yes, it’s Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning once again with all the chips on the table, but although we are pretty confident we have the Tom Brady of old calling signals for the New England Patriots, do we simply have an old Peyton Manning at quarterback for the Denver Broncos as the AFC title game approaches?
The Broncos, currently 13-4 straight-up and 7-7-3 against the football pointspread, have the #1 defense in the NFL. They are the best in terms of yardage surrendered per drive and per game; they are best, for all intents and purposes, against the pass, as they have yielded just 5.6 yards per attempt and recorded 52 sacks on the regular season, and they have allowed just 3.3 yards per carry on the part of their opponents. Such a team would appear to be a great candidate for success as a home underdog, especially considering that they have a five-time MVP at quarterback who has started in 25 playoff games.
But then again, maybe that legendary quarterback is their principal liability here.
In the reduced juice NFL playoff odds that have been established on this game by the people at BetAnySports, the Patriots are spotting the Broncos a few points at Sports Authority Field:
New England Patriots -3 (-110)
Denver Broncos +3 (+100)
Over 44.5 points -108
Under 44.5 points -102
Of course, Manning was out with a foot injury (the plantar fascia) while Brock Osweiler took over and did a serviceable job. One of those games Osweiler started was a victory over these Patriots at Mile High, where the Broncos came back from 14 points down and eventually won in overtime. That is, in fact, how they wind up playing at home in this championship game.
Anyone who was looking for some real answers as to whether Manning still “had it” to compete at a championship level may have had to come away from last weekend’s game grading it “incomplete.” For the edification of BetAnySports patrons reading this, what we mean is that he completed 21 of 37 passes, about 57%, which is not far off what he did in regular season, where he was slightly under 60%. He threw for six yards an attempt, which is not awe-inspiring, but once again, reflective of the limited range of what he can do. He had several guys drop passes on him, which is something that perhaps can be corrected.
Maybe the most important statistic we can look at is that he did not throw an interception. The reason that is important, this season more than others, is that when the regular season ended, he had thrown the second most pickoffs of any QB in the league (17), and that was in just ten games. It is obviously going to be very critical that he keep the ball out of enemy hands.
If you are interested in Manning’s overall playoff ledger, he has a 63.7% completion rate with 38 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, and has averaged 6.9 yards per pass. The TD-INT ratio and per-attempt figure are down from his overall career totals, which is understandable because he’s facing better teams, along with weather factors and the like. You can even see some rather lengthy analysis that suggests he has been a better playoff quarterback than Brady, relative to expectation and external support.
The operative thought here is that Manning is as smart as they come at the line of scrimmage when it comes to deciding which play to run. We’re sure that from a cerebral standpoint, he can match wits with Bill Belichick and his defensive staff.
The question is, can he then send the message from his head to his arm with enough effectiveness?