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I was recently debating some possible scenarios the Patriots could face in the playoffs and who they matched up best against. The Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos were obviously a heavy topic of conversation and my general feelings were, so long as Denver has to travel to Foxboro, the Patriots will walk away victorious.

I was then asked if I was underrating or dismissing the Broncos because of the mid-season drubbing they took at the hands of the Pats. No, the Broncos are what they are, and that is the second best team in a conference filled with pretenders.

The Broncos are dangerous and Patriots fans should worry...

The Broncos are one of the most dynamic teams in the NFL. They've learned to win games in a variety of ways this season and have displayed exotic play calling on both sides of the ball. Manning, leads a group of skill players that could double as a Pro Bowl roster and, is arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever take the field. But we knew this, it hasn't been lost in the shuffle.

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Denver's defense was a question mark, however, and they've had a lot to prove. Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Von Miller, and DeMarcus Ware anchor a defense that makes life hell for offenses. They are currently ranked 2nd in the league in rush yards against, they have 14 interceptions and five fumble recoveries, and they have rushed the passer with reckless abandon, racking up 38 sacks so far this year. They're one of the most dangerous teams in the league and there is a certain level of respect that comes along with that title, respect I openly give them.

As it stands, the Broncos are the only team in the AFC that belong in the same sentence, either by record or performance, with the New England Patriots and a second meeting between the two is expected. Yet another chapter of Brady vs. Manning, the battle of the two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever live the game, will be played and if current standing hold, it will be played at Gillette Stadium. 

Location, location, location!

There is no coach/quarterback combination in the AFC that is as lethal as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, especially in the playoffs. The tandem boasts an 18-8 record in the post-season, including a 3-2 record in the Super Bowl. Manning in his career is 11-12 in the post-season including a horrific 2-5 road record.

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Manning's never played on a team as complete as his current Broncos team. Sure he had the likes of Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clarke, Reggie Wayne, Edgrrin James and other talented skill players in Indy but Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker are on a different level. The difference lies solely on the defensive side of the ball. John Elway has assembled a group that plays with an edge, and for the first time in his career, Manning won't be relied upon to win games with his right arm and only his offense at his back.

Even with truck loads of talent at every position, there remains only one deciding factor in every playoff meeting between Manning and the Patriots. Home field advantage. 2-2 against each other, the home team has won every meeting and New England is currently in the driver seat for home field throughout in the AFC Playoffs.

The Patriots have been a different team in front of the Foxboro faithful, blowing out opponents at an alarming rate, including the Broncos. They're playing with an edge, with a chip on their shoulder. They're playing as if fueled by the resurrected voice of Rodney Harrison echoing through the locker room of Gillette Stadium, damning the world for disrespecting the New England Patriots.

Separating the men from the boys

The Broncos are too good and too talented to be viewed as underrated. They aren't, however, as good as the top two teams in the league. In ESPN's weekly power rankings the Broncos sit in the number three spot, and that's exactly where they belong.

ESPN Week 15 Power Rankings
Having already been blown out by the Patriots, who are currently in firm command of the number two spot, and not looking nearly as impressive as the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos find themselves at the bottom of the pack of the best teams in the league. Unlike the two teams directly in front of them, they don't control their own destiny for home field advantage and won't have the opportunity to unless the Patriots manage to falter in the last three weeks of the season. 

Denver still has a few tough games left on their schedule. Trips to San Diego and Cincinnati are on the horizon before closing out the season at home against the hapless Raiders. Unfortunately for Denver, both the Chargers and the Bengals are in desperate need of wins in order to keep their own playoff chances alive. Both the Bengals and Chargers have taken on New England this year and each team probably wishes they hadn't.

Denver has an uphill battle these next two weeks, two weeks that may drop them further down the totem poll if they don't play up to their potential.


Follow Andrew on Twitter @_AndrewSheehan

Read more of Andrew's work here 



Andrew Sheehan 12/09/2014 04:55:00 PM Edit
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