FOXBORO -- The matchups between the Broncos and Patriots have been well-established. There's Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. There's Bill Belichick and John Fox.
But there's another AFC Championship matchup that features two longstanding opponents: Wes Welker and Kyle Arrington.
As Patriots teammates, the slot receiver and slot corner could be found squaring off a weekly basis in practice. On Sunday, they'll have a chance to re-new what was once a friendly rivalry between two guys who shared a locker room.
In New England's Week 12 win over the Broncos, Arrington wasn't exclusively used to defend Welker, but the two often lined up across from one another. Welker finished with four catches for 31 yards.
"Obviously Wes is a talented player," Arrington said Thursday. "Definitely one of the premier -- if not the best -- slot guys in the league. Facing him is always a challenge. Day in, day out last year was always a challenge. This week is about a lot of focus and preparation and then ultimately, when it comes to the game, try to win as many one-on-one battles as possible."
Arrington explained that while he is very familiar with Welker from their four years together as teammates, that doesn't mean Arrington has cracked the code on how to stop his old teammate.
With Arrington watching, Welker made himself into arguably the game's most productive receiver while in New England. The Patriots defensive back says that work ethic continues to make Denver's newest weapon a difficult cover.
"It's his dedication. His hard work on the field as well as off it," Arrington said. "As far as watching him here, I know how many hours he put in with Tom off the field. I can only imagine him and Peyton doing the same, getting that chemistry [to] know where each other is going to be if a play breaks down. You can see it on film."
Welker's physical toughness and competitive edge also continue to jump out at Arrington as he studies Welker on film. Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He's a tough guy," Arrington said. "To come off of concussions or whatever the case is, hard hits, he gets right back up . . . I guess [there was a] report was he didn't want to report whatever head injury he had, but that's just Wes. He's the ultimate competitor. That's everyday. I remember that. It's gonna be a challenge."
Welker suffered two concussions in the span of four weeks earlier this season, the latest coming in early December which knocked him out of game action for five weeks.
Upon his return last week in the AFC Divisional round game between the Broncos and the Chargers, Welker caught six balls for 38 yards and a touchdown while wearing a a larger helmet to protect against further injury. He also had a drop in the first half.
Arrington is expecting to see the same guy he remembers from practice.
"Wes is a heck of a competitor," Arrington said. "I'm no stranger to competition myself. We went at it a few times."
Arrington has established himself as a reliable slot corner in the NFL, proven by the four-year deal the Patriots handed him this offseason. But when he started to learn the ins and outs of the position, Welker didn't make it easy.
"Wes was a heck of a teacher I'll tell you that," Arrington said. "It was baptism by fire if you may."
Both were undrafted, chip-on-the-shoulder kind of players, and both made each other work in practice. Arrington said that Welker was never much of a trash talker, but if you heard something from him -- watch out.
"Wes is like a quiet storm, man," Arrington said. "You have to really tick Wes off for him to talk to you. If Wes is talking to you, then you're in trouble.
"We might've shared a few words back and forth that might have been a little unflattering," Arrington added with a smile. "But it's just football."
Arrington has a set of versatile, shifty receivers as teammates who help keep him sharp at Patriots practices. It's hard for both Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman to escape comparisons to Welker, but Arrington said they're all different.
Edelman, especially, is a little bit louder.
"Julian is sort of the opposite of Wes," Arrington said when it comes to on-the-field banter. "Everybody has their own thing, and that's Jules man."