The Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots have a rivalry that’s deeper than just Tom Brady and Peyton Manning playing against each other. They’ve faced off three times in the last 10 years in the postseason, and at least once in the last five seasons. Their 1-2 seeding puts them on the usual collision course.
The Broncos announced Manning is going to be their playoff quarterback. He’s all healed up, or maybe Brock Osweiler just didn’t live up to expectations. Either way, it just goes to show how quickly things change for NFL players and teams. When Manning was benched while the Kansas City Chiefs pass rush was steamrolling him and the Broncos into the ground, it looked like it’s not just over for him this season; it looked like the career was done too.
You can say things have changed for the New England Patriots too. After a 10-0 start the injuries started piling up, and their visit to Mile High against the Broncos ended in their first loss of the season despite being in control of the game for the most part, eventually losing in overtime. The Patriots finished the season with four losses in their final six games. Worst of all: They lost the number one seed, which means a potential AFC championship game in Denver.
And that’s a problem for the Patriots. With a fully healthy team (they won’t be) or without, playing in Denver has been a problem for them, just like playing in Foxboro has been a huge issue for Denver and everyone else. Since Manning joined the Broncos in 2012, the Patriots have a 3-2 lead in the series. All three wins came at home. Both losses? In Denver, including the AFC Championship game two years ago. Home field advantage is worth fighting for. One win, however, was with Osweiler at QB.
Maybe the Broncos blow it. They did lose twice on their opening playoff game despite having the home game since Manning joined the team, and he has a long career filled with one-and-done postseason appearances. He might have gotten everyone excited about his return with a short cameo that kept the Broncos from losing to the San Diego Chargers, but he’s still the player who threw more interceptions than anyone this season, and looked bad, injured or healthy, on most of his appearances this season.
A lot can go wrong, even with a bye week to get healthy and ready, but also rusty. The AFC isn’t as easy as it might seem. But unless something surprising happens which has something to do with a very good Cincinnati Bengals team, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are going to be battling for another berth in the Super Bowl on part of the AFC, with the Denver Broncos hoping home field advantage means something once again.