By Christian S. Kohl
As Championship Weekend looms this Sunday, football fans get to watch two exceptional games and two exceptional rivalries. In the AFC, Manning and Brady will duel yet again. The good news: either Manning or Brady will get to go to another Super Bowl. The bad news: one of them will not, and be denied adding more to his legacy yet again. The question is, who emerges on top?
This game could play out several different ways. What seems all but impossible is for New England to blow Denver out on their home field. The offense of Denver is so explosive, they are capable of making this game fiercely competitive at worst, and a blowout win for them at best. The Patriots simply lack the weapons on either side of the ball to roll all over Denver. If New England is not careful, loses a turnover or two, and perhaps lets Holliday break free, this game could end before it starts. Brady will have to dictate the pace of this game for four quarters to emerge on the winning side.
Bill Belichick is perhaps the most key variable in this battle. He coaches in a way unlike any other in the NFL: quite simply, his strategy week-to-week is based on his opponent’s weakness as opposed to a single-minded adherence to his own strength. Last week, Indy had no answer for Blount. Brady threw the ball far less, determined to continue handing off until Indy stopped them. They could not. Belichick no doubt has a very clear conception of how to attack Denver. It could be more of Blount, a heavy dose of Amendola and Edelman, or some bizarre cocktail of weapons old and new we haven’t seen all year long. We don’t know. More importantly, neither does Denver.
The problem for New England lies on defense. Their strategy is always to find ways to eliminate the most potent threat on an offense and then try to guard the supporting cast. Denver has no clear skill threat, with three elite receivers, an elite tight end, highly effective running backs, and perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. There is no one primary option. Even if they manage to baffle and smother Manning, Moreno and Ball could tear up New England on the ground as Blount did last week against Indy.
This week pits a juggernaut not accustomed to losing against a highly skilled but heavily injured team who has played above its skill level the entire year. One team will have to elevate its game that much further to advance to the Super Bowl this weekend. My bet is on Denver. Their team is healthier and at home, facing a defense too decimated to stop the wealth of options. Lastly, I think Manning has played with a chip on his shoulder the entire year. These records haven’t come out of nowhere. He is tired of the criticism that he has “only” one ring, or that Tebow had more Denver playoff wins than he did. Nobody has ever accused Manning of being stupid. He knows this is likely the best shot he’ll ever have again at another ring, and he won’t let it slip away without his greatest fight. Look for creative strategies from New England to make this a hard fought battle, but Denver to emerge as the AFC Champions. Don’t miss this weekend. If you can’t enjoy these games, then football is simply not your sport.
Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.
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