It’s Broncos vs. Patriots, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady for the 14th time, but this actually is not that big of a game in the AFC given New England’s loss in Carolina. Even if the Broncos lose and the Chiefs win on Sunday, it’s the Week 13 game in Kansas City that those AFC teams will really need the most to control their destiny for the No. 1 seed.
Still, it’s a lot more interesting to talk Manning-Brady than Manning-Alex Smith. Last week’s outcome was predictable. This week’s may be as well given the last 13 meetings. I’m not going to do a full preview since I may be writing an article on Insider about the game for Monday, but I will preview some things relevant to Sunday night’s meeting.
While the greatest QB rivalry ever gets all the attention, the fact is there’s never been a Manning-Brady game that was a true shootout where both quarterbacks played great and moved their offenses up and down the field. In fact, there’s been a double-digit deficit in all 13 meetings and Manning’s team has trailed by 17+ points in eight games. These matchups often come down to Manning trying to make a huge comeback, Brady failing in the four-minute offense and the New England defense either holds or allows the game-winning points.
Whether it’s the first time or the 14th, the real matchup is Manning vs. Bill Belichick: the superior quarterback against the superior team/coach.
Even in those first meetings in 2001, when this rivalry didn’t exist yet, you could see that theme of “QB vs. team.” Brady opened up a 23-0 lead on Manning in their first career meeting. He was 6-of-13 passing for 52 yards at that point in the game. In the rematch in Indy, the Patriots led 28-3 in the 2nd quarter. At that point, Brady was 7/7 for 134 yards and a TD — strong numbers for sure, but 91 yards came on one play. Meanwhile, Manning was 12-of-18 for 181 yards (sacked 3 times). Does that sound like a QB mismatch worthy of a 28-3 score? Of course not. Mike Vanderjagt had two field goals blocked in the first quarter (when does that ever happen?) and Edgerrin James fumbled.
That’s the kind of stuff that repeatedly tends to happen when these QBs play each other, because the Patriots are better at forcing mistakes and stopping teams from doing what they do best. That’s great coaching.
Belichick’s been there for every meeting while Manning will go to battle with what is technically his fifth different head coach (interim Jack Del Rio). In most of the first 13 games, Manning’s teams made a plethora of mistakes that Belichick’s teams capitalize on best. Manning’s team is -13 in turnover differential against New England.
Often the strength of Manning’s team defenses is the edge rushers. That’s not the best way to attack Brady, who can step up in the pocket and pick apart the Colts/Broncos underneath, which he’s done several times over the years. The Patriots also run the ball better than Manning’s offense, so they’re not as one dimensional. Last season against Denver Brady handed it off 50 times for 253 yards — the most rushing support of his career. That includes a back-breaking 19-yard run on 3rd-and-17 by Danny Woodhead.
Head-to-head rushing support:
- Manning – 329 carries for 1,290 yards (3.92 YPC)
- Brady – 356 carries for 1,641 yards (4.61 YPC)
In game 14 of the rivalry, Brady will have home-field advantage for the ninth time. Brady has the better defense for the 12th time. Manning only had the better defense, measured by points per drive, in 2005 (40-21 win) and last year even though the Patriots were better at the start of the season and certainly better than Denver on that day.
Speaking of in-game results out of the QB’s control, Brady’s had the better starting field position in eight of the games.
For those counting at home, we have Manning with inferior coaching, less help from his running game and he has to drive longer fields, often on the road, against superior defenses. So the 4-9 record proves what exactly? Oh yeah, the Patriots have a better team and coach.
Manning has averaged at least 39.6 yards per drive in seven of his last eight games against Belichick’s defense. That’s good enough to lead the league most seasons, so that’s a great number. But in the last two games in Foxboro, his offense threw away too many drives. Manning threw 3 interceptions in 2010. Last season with Denver, Demaryius Thomas and Willis McGahee fumbled in the red zone, Manning fumbled to put Brady in the red zone and McGahee dropped a 4th-and-1 pass. When you get the ball 10 times in a game, you can’t piss away four drives like that and expect to win. It’s the only game in Manning’s Denver career where he could not get any closer than within 10 points in the 4th quarter. His Broncos are 22-5 despite a -5 turnover differential.
That’s a big part of the reason I like the Patriots to win this week.
New England is coming off a tough loss in Carolina and rarely ever loses two in a row. The Patriots also did not get a takeaway. You have to go back to games 4-6 of the 2005 season to find the last time the Patriots had consecutive games without a takeaway. They’re going to get some in this game, because when you throw in some cold weather, that ball’s going to be hard to control for a Denver team with poor ball security. Even Manning has career highs with 8 fumbles (6 lost) this year.
When the Patriots win the turnover battle at home, they’re 68-2 since 2001.
On the point about the cold — some forecasts have it being under 30 or so tomorrow night — I’m not worried about it in the context of Manning’s performance. He’s long overdue for a statistical letdown game, but it won’t happen because of the weather. Since some can’t get the numbers right, here’s every Manning game with a game-time temperature of 40 degrees or less:
Clearly this is a narrative built on losing a couple of playoff games (light blue) in 02-04 in New Jersey and New England. Otherwise, where’s the problem here?
Belichick is going to take away what Denver does best. He’s smart enough to know Demaryius Thomas is the key to this offense, so look for Aqib Talib (assuming he’s healthy enough to play) to lock up, some times illegally, Thomas. He won’t shut him down, but the Patriots can’t afford a huge game from him.
Wes Welker, concussion and all, probably will have a huge game for that reason. Belichick would rather give up shorter plays to Welker than the big ones to Thomas, who is the Denver skill player capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Julius Thomas was questionable the last time I looked, so he could be slowed by injury. Eric Decker’s opportunity is huge in this one as he’s probably the healthiest and should get the most favorable coverage.
Denver made it a point to protect Manning’s ankle against the Chiefs. Without hearing much about that this week, I expect you’ll see the Patriots generate more pressure than the Chiefs did, which was almost nothing. The advantage Manning has is this New England secondary is really banged up with several DBs listed as questionable and their playing statuses up in the air. If Manning can get enough protection to have his 4-5 receiving options running routes, then he should have a big game against this defense.
However, like last year it’s not going to matter without the Denver defense and Del Rio finally showing they can slow Brady down. Del Rio never has and while I’m not worried about old Jacksonville games, the three New England wins over Denver since 2011 are troubling. Von Miller’s not as effective if the Broncos aren’t leading, which is the same problem the Colts faced with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis when they went up against the Patriots.
I’d welcome a legit shootout between the two HOF QBs for a change, but I just don’t see it happening. If I had to pick a previous Manning-Brady matchup for the one Sunday night will resemble most, I’d say last year’s game if NE wins, and 2006 regular season (27-20) if the Broncos win. It’s not likely Brady has a four-pick parade though.
So in the greatest QB rivalry, nothing’s really changed. Manning’s always been a better QB than Brady, but in the ultimate team game, I have to go with New England this week. That should give the Broncos extra motivation for their true big road game of the regular season: Week 13 in Kansas City.
Final prediction: Broncos 28, Patriots 35
NFL Week 12 Predictions
The game only had 30 total points, but the Saints came out on top as I expected.
- Chargers at Chiefs
- Bears at Rams
- Jaguars at Texans
- Buccaneers at Lions
- Vikings at Packers
- Panthers at Dolphins
- Jets at Ravens
- Steelers at Browns
- Colts at Cardinals
- Titans at Raiders
- Cowboys at Giants
- Broncos at Patriots
- 49ers at Redskins
- Week 1: 11-5
- Week 2: 12-4
- Week 3: 8-8
- Week 4: 9-6
- Week 5: 9-5
- Week 6: 11-4
- Week 7: 10-5
- Week 8: 10-3
- Week 9: 8-5
- Week 10: 8-6
- Week 11: 9-6
- Season: 105-57