Despite history, Pats and Broncos have little in common

Despite history, Pats and Broncos have little in common
January 12, 2014, 10:15 pm
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On October 6, the Denver Broncos hung 51 on the Cowboys in a dramatic three-point win. It was their second straight week over 50 points and the fourth time in their five games they’d been over 40. They were averaging 46 points per game. They were, without question, the best team in the AFC.
 
Meanwhile, on that same day in the middle of the country, the Patriots were floundering against the Bengals. New England managed two field goals, losing 13-6. Tom Brady was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games.
 
The mood in New England? Sift through some of the postgame commentary on our station from that day and the comments on the accompanying article.
 
The Patriots as then constituted couldn’t have gone to the Poulan Weedeater Bowl, forget the AFC Championship.
 
Now, a little more than three months later, two teams that had nothing in common are going to fight for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
 
The surface storyline will be about how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have shared quarterbacking supremacy in the NFL for the past dozen years. Parallels will be drawn. Legacies will be rehashed. Connections between those two and the two teams – Wes Welker and the Patriots is a handy one – will be trotted out.
 
But if you’ve been paying attention to the football and not the storylines, you know these two teams couldn’t be more different in terms of their paths.
 
One team’s was lit with runway lights. The other hacked its way through the jungle to get where it is.
 
The Week 12 meeting between the teams was a fitting metaphor for the two teams’ seasons. Denver fast from the gate, dominant, building a 24-0 lead by halftime, the Patriots getting booed off the stage at the break. Then the Patriots reeling Denver in, getting the upper hand. Then Manning and the Broncos fighting off the ropes to tie it.
 
The Broncos have been installed at 6.5 point favorites and they deserve to be. The Patriots offense was built around two pass-catching tight ends. Now they don’t have one. They have no legitimate outside-the-numbers threats. They have three 5-8 guys – Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen as the viable targets for Brady.
 
They have a throwback running game and a defense that will – this year – be the key to whether or not they play in the Super Bowl.
 
The Broncos are at home with an offense that has set every record.
 
Manning has a chance to get his playoff record back to .500 (he’s 10-11 for his career) and vanquish the pain of throwing not just the overtime pick in last year’s playoffs that sent Denver home but the sealing pick-six he threw in the 2009 Super Bowl against the Saints.
 
It’s all set up for the Broncos to get payback for Week 12 and for Manning to go through Brady and the Patriots to a Super Bowl as he did in 2006 when he came off the mat to conquer a similarly offensively-challenged Patriots team.

That, coincidentally, was the last time the Patriots were on the road in the playoffs. The last time they were an underdog.
 
The Broncos are supposed to be playing next Sunday. The Patriots, considering where they were three months ago, are the surprise.
 
The Patriots will have to play almost perfectly to win. And even then, they may need some help from the Broncos.