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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 7:00 PM

The long and storied rivalry may be coming to its last chapter. If the recent form of Peyton Manning is any indication, he probably won’t be playing in any more conference championship games (nor maybe even regular season games). Even in a victory last week over Pittsburgh, his passes lacked zip and tended to float out of his hands. The announcers (Jim Nantz shares a manager with Manning) kept blaming receivers for drops. Sometimes they were trying to catch knuckle balls!

Yet…even if this season is the end of the line for Manning, he and Denver can still beat New England this Sunday and return to the Super Bowl thanks to their great defense. Truth be told…it’s the championship caliber offense of New England facing the championship caliber defense of Denver…and everyone else is along for the ride!

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats to say about Sunday afternoon’s AFC Championship showdown. Note that we use regular season stats only in our previews for sample size reasons.


Won-Lost Records

New England: 12-4 (#22 ranked schedule according to Sagarin)

Denver: 12-4 (#11 ranked schedule according to Sagarin)

Both teams were terrific when healthy, and both are healthy enough this week. New England would have made a run at 14-2 if not for some important injuries down the stretch. They played to that level last week in a win over Kansas City with stars back in the lineup. The two best teams in the AFC will fight it out!


2015 Yards-Per-Play

New England: 5.7 on offense, 5.2 on defense

Denver: 5.4 on offense, 4.4 on defense

You may be wondering why we called New England’s offense “championship caliber” just a bit ago. It’s not like 5.7 is all-world. That’s true. But, the Patriots are better than that when healthy, and they finish drives better than anybody. So, they get more TD’s out of 5.7 than other teams would out of 6.0. The Pats reached 6.1 last week vs. Kansas City, and had three very long touchdown drives against a quality defense. Denver’s defense has been amazing this season. Not only have they shut people down on a per-play basis. But, they also had more sacks than anyone else in the playoffs. What New England does (or doesn’t do) vs. Denver’s defense will determine the flow of the afternoon.


2015 Turnover Differential

New England: +7

Denver: -4

Bad news here for the Broncos. They were too mistake-prone with either Manning or Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Brady’s Pats have always gotten the best of this risk/reward stats over the years. Maybe it will be tougher to have favorable footballs or any other mischievous edges in a road game. Still…the team most likely to win this stat Sunday is New England. Might be the kicker card that wins the hand.


2015 Market Performance

New England: 7-7-2 ATS

Denver: 8-8 ATS (6-9-1 to the Under)

New England moved to 8-7-2 ATS overall with that win/cover over Kansas City last week. Denver fell to 8-9 (with a corresponding 6-10-1 to the Under) in a 23-16 non-cover/win over Pittsburgh. Generally speaking, the line has been in the neighborhood with these AFC powers. They were supposed to be very good, and played to those expectations. Oddsmakers and sharps have been slow to react to the new Over/Under dynamic for the Broncos though. The offense was worse than it was supposed to be, the defense better.


Current Line: New England by 3, total of 44.5

If you look at a variety of indicators, this line doesn’t really make sense. New England should be -1 based on the projected Super Bowl lines for all four possibilities. This line is saying the Pats would be -6 on a neutral field (dubious at best given Denver’s great defense), and a stunning -9 at home (they were only -5 vs. Kansas City…and there’s no way Kansas City is four points better than Denver). What’s happened? New England looked great last week. Denver didn’t, even though they did manage to get some scoreboard distance very late. Brady’s throws were sharp. Manning’s weren’t. Many in the markets believe New England will win by at least two FG’s wherever the game is played, and home field doesn’t matter much for these veteran QB’s.  

What does JIM HURLEY think about that? You’ll have to sign up for service to find out! You can purchase the final word for both the AFC and NFC Championship games right here at the website with your credit card this weekend. If you have any questions about extended service through the NFL Super Bowl and college basketball’s March Madness, please call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

Back with you early Saturday to look at Sunday’s nightcap in Charlotte matching the Cards and Panthers. Here’s what’s on tap in the NOTEBOOK…

Weekend: NFC Championship Preview…Arizona at Carolina

Monday: College Basketball Conference Summary…the Big East

Midweek: College Basketball Conference Summary…the SEC

Friday-Saturday: College Basketball Previews…Kentucky/Kansas and Oklahoma/LSU

Saturday-Sunday: NBA TV Preview…Golden State at New York

Just three games left in football this season including the Super Bowl…but tons of basketball on the immediate horizon as we transition to winter wagering in Las Vegas. Read helpful handicapping tips here in the NOTEBOOK…then link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for all the BIG, JUICY WINNERS!


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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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