What makes this matchup truly intriguing is that the AFC's #1 playoff seed is likely at stake. Obviously, it's week 9 and there's a lot of games left to be played, but you can count on the 1-seed coming down to the Denver Broncos, or New England Patriots.
At 6-1, the Broncos currently are in sole possession of the 1-seed, if the season ended today, which means that they'd not only get a bye in the Wildcard round, but also they'd have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
At 6-2, the Patriots are 1.5 games behind the Broncos. If the Broncos lose in Foxboro, the Patriots would take sole possession of the 1-seed, because of the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Broncos will get the Patriots best shot on Sunday.
It's no secret that Bill Belichick (not Brady) has been Manning's arch-nemesis throughout his career. Belichick knows how to game-plan vs the Sheriff and take away what he likes to do.
Since Manning came to Denver, he is 1-2 vs the Patriots, with his only win coming last January in the AFC Title Game. Both losses came on the road in Foxboro and the only win was at home, because the Broncos had secured the 1-seed and home-field advantage.
When the Patriots have to travel to take on Manning, it evens the playing field a bit, so to speak. In the AFC Title Game, the Broncos won handily. Manning got out to a 26-8 lead and Brady didn't narrow it until 3 minutes left in the game. The final score was 26-16. It catapulted the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they lost in humiliating fashion to the Seattle Seahawks.
Many people think that this year's away game in Foxboro will be different than the last two, because of the Broncos defense. In 2013, Manning got the Broncos out to a 24-0 lead. But between some costly turnovers and the defense's inability to stop Brady, they ended up losing in overtime 34-31.
The Broncos defense is a very different animal this year. With a healthy and focused Von Miller and the additions the team made in free agency (DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Aqib Talib), Tom Brady won't find it as easy to move the ball. But Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and the Patriots record at home under Belichick is dominant.
In each of Manning's two seasons in Denver, he has guided the franchise to the AFC 1-seed, but went on to lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion. In 2012, the 1-seed was all for naught, as the Broncos lost a heart-breaker to the Baltimore Ravens. In 2013, they used the 1-seed to dominate the AFC playoffs, but couldn't finish the job in the Super Bowl.
This week is one of the few games that I'd consider to be a "must win" for the Broncos, simply because of the playoff stakes. The AFC playoff picture right now is tight, with the top 8 teams separated by no more than 1.5 games, which means the margin for error is very small. The Broncos can't afford to falter on the road this time.