AFC Championship preview: All about the QBs

The hype is on for Brady-Manning XVII and it’s no wonder with all their postseason stats, but the coaching and defense should receive some attention, too.

New England Patriots (13-4) at Denver Broncos (13-4)

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is 23-9 in the playoffs, but the Denver Broncos have been his kryptonite, as he has a losing record (8-12) against them all-time. Meanwhile, Gary Kubiak is 3-2 in the playoffs, but he has a 2-4 record against the Patriots.

Both teams got seven-point wins in the divisional round last weekend, but New England is 2-0 against common opponents in the regular season (Indianapolis and Pittsburgh) while Denver is 0-2 (although they beat a short-handed Steelers team in the playoffs). And Denver can also brag that they won the last meeting on Nov. 29, 2015, a 30-24 overtime win, and the last playoff meeting, a 26-16 victory on Jan. 19, 2014 in the conference championship.

It’s easy to see how closely these teams are matched up when it comes to the history, but it’s not as much about the head coaches as this one is being hyped for the veteran quarterbacks who are future Hall of Famers and meeting for the 17th time.

While Peyton Manning was out for much of the second half of the regular season with a foot injury, Tom Brady was lighting it up once again for the Patriots. He was third in the NFL with 4,770 yards, first with 36 touchdown passes and second in the AFC with a 102.2 passer rating.

Brady and Belichick have the most postseason wins (22) of any quarterback-coach duo, and Brady has the most playoff wins (22) of any QB in NFL history. He is also the all-time playoff leader for passing yards (7,647), touchdown passes (55), completions (711) and attempts (1,127). His 302 yards passing last week tied him with Manning for the most 300-yard games (nine) in playoff history.

Manning, meanwhile, ranks second in playoff history for passing yards (7,022), completions (619) and attempts (972), and ranks fourth in postseason touchdown passes (38).

It’s no wonder this matchup has been hyped so much. Manning doesn’t take a back seat to many, but he is second to Brady in many of the all-time playoff passing statistics. 

Manning has Demaryius Thomas, who had 105 catches for 1,305 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. Brady has TE Rob Gronkowski, who had 72 catches for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Both teams, of course, are heavily reliant on their passing attacks, but each of them has a good defense, too. The Broncos were top dogs in the NFL in yards allowed and passing yards allowed, finishing third in rushing yards allowed. New England was ninth in total yards allowed, ninth in rushing yards allowed and 17th in passing yards allowed. New England has Chandler Jones with 12½ sacks leading the way; Denver has Von Miller with 11 sacks.

While the game will be celebrated for two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history facing each other – they’ve met four times in the playoffs and split those games – history will take a back seat during the game, yet there is plenty of it to be made. Belichick can set the NFL record among coaches if he reaches his seventh Super Bowl appearance. Brady will break the record for most postseason games played with 31. If New England wins, it would break the record for most Super Bowl appearances at nine. If Denver wins, it would join New England, Dallas and Pittsburgh with eight Super Bowl appearances.

STATS LEADERS

PASSING Brady: 402-624-4770 (3L)-36 (1L)-7-102.2 (2C) Manning: 198-331-2249-9-17-67.9
RUSHING Bolden: 63-207-3.3-0 Hillman: 207-863-4.2-7
RECEIVING Gronkowski (TE): 72-1176-16.3-11 Thomas: 105-1304-12.4-6
OFFENSE 374.4 (2C) 355.5
TAKE/GIVE +7 (3C) -4
DEFENSE 339.4 283.1 (1L)
SACKS Cha. Jones: 12.5 Miller: 11
INTs Ryan: 4 Talib: 3
PR Amendola: 12.0 (2L) Sanders: 6.1
KR K. Martin: 25.7 Bolden: 22.8
PUNTING Allen: 46.0 Colquitt: 43.6
KICKING Gostkowski: 151 (1L) (52/52 PAT; 33/36 FG) McManus: 125 (35/36 PAT; 30/35 FG)
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