Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 17, 2014 at 7:00 AM
Through their Hall-of-Fame careers, Tom Brady’s New England Patriots have generally gotten the best of Peyton Manning’s teams (mostly Indianapolis before a regular season win over Denver several weeks ago). But, Sunday’s AFC Championship rematch shows Manning and the Broncos as a clear favorite at Las Vegas sportsbooks.
In Denver’s favor:
Slightly better team
Home field advantage
Healthier on offense
Brady just took a sick day!
Hopefully by Sunday, Brady will be past the effects of whatever caused him to miss a midweek practice with an illness. But, those first three elements are still in play. Denver is rated 1-3 points better in most neutral field Power Ratings. The game is obviously in Denver. And, New England still has to win without Rob Gronkowski, which will be tougher to do at Denver against a great quarterback than it was at home last week against a self-imploding youngster.
Can New England spring the upset anyway? Let’s see if our standard indicator stats foreshadow Brady moving to 11-4 lifetime against Manning.
Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)
New England: 12-4 (#21 schedule in USA Today)
Denver: 13-3 (#24 schedule in USA Today)
Denver had the better record against a comparable schedule. Were Gronkowski back in the lineup and going at full speed, then you could make the case that the Patriots were better than their 16-game composite. But, he’s out…and they probably weren’t a 12-4 caliber team in the games he missed. Still looks like Denver is slightly better on a neutral field, making them a clear home favorite.
New England: 5.4 on offense, 5.3 on defense
Denver: 6.3 on offense, 5.3 on defense
Huge advantage here to the Broncos. During the regular season, the Patriots didn’t look at all like a 12-4 caliber team at the point of attack. They were only +0.1 in yards-per-play differential against a slightly below average schedule. Denver was a whopping +1.0 against the same kind of slate. Big edge here to the Broncos. In fact, it’s an edge so big that you could make the case Denver should be laying a touchdown or more in Vegas.
New England: +9
This is why the Patriots posted such a great record. This is why they have a chance to spring an upset on Sunday. Manning isn’t likely to keep throwing the ball to the wrong team the way Andrew Luck did last week. But, he’s been less sharp than Brady this year in the risk/reward area. And, the Denver defense hasn’t been particularly impressive at taking the ball away in big games (Denver lost the category 2-0 to San Diego last week even though they won and advanced). Turnovers are generally worth about four points in the NFL. If Brady and the Pats play clean, while Manning and the Broncos have some miscues, then the point-of-attack edges disappear for the host. A +1 edge for the Pats creates a coin flip ending. A +2 edge probably leads to an upset.
New England: 8-8 ATS
Denver: 10-5-1 ATS
Denver was the better team against expectations during the regular season. And, that’s an impressive accomplishment because Denver was the AFC favorite, and the Super Bowl favorite before the season started. They didn’t get any breaks in the line, yet covered at a 67% pace anyway. Though, they did fail to get the money last week after failing to properly protect a 17-0 second half lead. New England broke even, which is a sign that they didn’t have the resources this season to run up the score on lesser lights. When things are clicking for the Brady/Belichick combo, oddsmakers can’t make the lines high enough.
Current Line: Denver by 5.5, total 55.5
Hey, five of a kind! The team side line has been hopping around because of reactions to the news about Brady’s temporary illness. Reports suggest most of the money is coming in on the underdog. But, some big bets have come in on Denver to balance the scales. Those preferring the Pats have taken +5.5 or higher. Those preferring Denver were able to get in at -4.5 or -5. Given that home field advantage is usually worth 3 to 3.5 points at altitude in Denver, the market is saying that a composite of Power Ratings puts Denver at 2-2.5 points better on a neutral field.
JIM HURLEY has had all week to think about this game, and to get the inside word from his on-site sources about what’s happening with each team during preparations. He’ll post this game Sunday morning as part of a huge CHAMPIONSHIP PARLAY that will also feature San Francisco at Seattle in the NFC Championship.
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Back with your tomorrow to preview that San Francisco/Seattle game with these same indicator categories. Keep reading the NOTEBOOK for vital handicapping information, and keep linking up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!