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Tale of the Tape: Patriots at Broncos AFC Championship Game

Posted by David Sabino  January 14, 2014 12:43 PM

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johnfox.jpg This Sunday in Denver, Broncos head coach John Fox seeks to avenge two of the most stinging defeats of his career—both of which came against Bill Belichick.

In Sunday's AFC Championship game history will be made between two old rivals. We're not talking about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning who'll be trying to outscore each other for the 15th time. No, this game marks the first time in NFL history that two coaches who squared off in the Super Bowl will be facing each other in a conference championship game. A decade ago John Fox and Bill Belichick were running opposing sidelines in Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Staduim in Houston for New England's 32–29 win over Fox's Carolina Panthers. Adam Vinateri's second Super Bowl game-winning field goal in three seasons gave Belichick his second of three titles and denied Fox one of his own. Not before or since have two Super Bowl opposing head coaches met with the prize being a trip back to the biggest show in sports, until now.

Sunday at Denver's Mile High Stadium will be THE game everyone wanted to see since the preseason. The top two seeds in the AFC square off to punch their ticket to East Rutherford, NJ to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII. These teams met in Foxboro on November 24, in a game that saw the Broncos score 24 unanswered points before halftime, after which the Patriots returned the favor with 31 straight points of their own.

New England held Peyton Manning to season-lows with 150 passing yards and 70.4 rating in that game but Knowshown Moreno set a Gillette Stadium record with 224 rushing yards, the second-most yards ever against the Pats after O.J. Simpson's 250 yards at Schaefer Stadium in 1973. However a special teams turnover on a punt return with time running down in overtime gave the Pats a thrilling 34-31 win and sent the Broncos to the second of their three losses on the season.

Fox's bunch recovered from the worst collapse in team history and went onto win four of their last five games, clinch home field advantage and smash multiple NFL records for offense, including most touchdowns (76), most touchdown passes (55), most passing yards per game (348.3) and most total points scored in a season (606) while placing second to the 1950 Los Angeles Rams in points per game (38.8 to 37.9). One of the reason the Broncos and Peyton Manning in particular were able to put up such gaudy numbers was the work of an offensive line that allowed No. 18 to be sacked just 20 times the entire season, the fewest in the league since Peyton and his brother Eli of the Giants were each brought down 16 times in 2010.

Defensively the Broncos will be dealing again with injury issues, missing five of their original starters on defense, including Chris Harris, the starting left cornerback who was placed on IR this week after suffering a torn ACL against San Diego. That further weakens a secondary that allowed 272.5 passing yards per game this season while placing in the bottom half of defenses in passing touchdowns allowed (29), big passing plays (37) and total touchdowns (44).

While this is the 15th meeting between Manning and Brady, its the seventh between Fox and Belichick, with the latter holding a 5–1 edge including the big one in 2004. Denver has the team to beat in the AFC. The question is, can they beat this generation's greatest tactician?

Here's how the AFC's 20013-14 heavyweights compared during the regular season.


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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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