Patriots (PK) and first half under 24 One thing about Super Bowls is they don't tend to start with a bang.
AFC title game parlay leg
Patriots at Broncos – over 56
When totals of NFL betting lines open in the mid-50s, the first lean should usually be toward the under. Denver is no stranger to inflated numbers, having seen 12 of its 17 games this season close with a total of at least 54. After going over in the first five of those contests, the number caught up to the Broncos, as they’ve gone 1-6 to the over since then (including five straight unders). Trends, however, only hold so much weight, and even then they can be deceiving.
In the divisional round, the Broncos beat the Chargers, 24-17, in one of the breeziest unders bettors will ever experience. Yet they also left lots of points off the board, including a missed field goal, a Peyton Manning interception in the end zone and a lost fumble in San Diego territory. It’s very rare that a team goes an entire game without punting and only scores 24 points, which is exactly what happened to Denver last week. San Diego also proved to have the Broncos’ number in their house this year. In two games against the Chargers, Manning put up a total of 44 points, whereas in seven games against the rest of the league, Denver hung an average of 42.8. With weather conditions expected to be ideal – sunny, high of 59 degrees, 5-10 mph winds – for the Denver passing attack at kickoff for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, it would take a Herculean effort by a patchwork New England defense to hold the Broncos under 30 points.
Of course, when a total is as high as this one, both teams must be putting up points in bunches for the over to hit. Much has been made about the Patriots offense reinventing itself as a ground-and-pound unit down the stretch and into the playoffs. The numbers certainly bear that out, as Tom Brady has handed the ball off a staggering 123 times against just 75 pass attempts during a three-game win streak, culminating with a 46/25 run/pass split in last week’s 43-22 divisional round win over the Colts. The misnomer, however, is in the characterization of New England’s offense as “reinvented.” The Patriots have always been a matchup team on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Bill Belichick is going to try and take away the opposition’s best weapon. And on offense, the game plan is always built around identifying and exploiting a defense’s weakness. Right now, the Denver defense is especially vulnerable against the pass, having lost its best corner, Chris Harris, to a torn ACL last week and top pass rusher Von Miller in late December.
That’s to say nothing of Brady, who as a result of New England’s recent rushing success has become something of a forgotten man in terms of this matchup (relatively speaking). What’s been lost in the mix leading up to the game is the immense success Brady has enjoyed against the Denver defense over the last few years. In four meetings since 2011 (including playoffs), Brady has completed 71.1 percent of his passes with an average of over 312 yards per game and a cumulative 12/1 touchdown/interception ratio. The Patriots have scored at least 31 points in every one of those contests, averaging 37.8 points per game. While the Broncos defense has gone through various iterations during that span, a decent chunk of the personnel has remained the same, notably in the defensive backfield, where safety Rahim Moore and corners Champ Bailey and Harris were all on the field for every matchup.
Obviously, Harris will be on the sideline for Sunday’s AFC title game, but that’s only going to benefit Brady given how effective he had been for the Broncos this season. Because of the success Knowshon Moreno had in the regular-season matchup (224 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) and New England’s newly-established offensive “script,” the belief is both offenses are going to be run-heavy in this game. Recent history paints a different picture, though. It would appear yet another Brady-Manning shootout is imminent, this one with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
Playoff picks: 8-1
Playoff parlays: 3-1
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