Thankfully, spelling doesn't count in the AFC Championship Game:
And players do not get penalized for the auto-correct on their smartphones.
Couldn't be happier with who where playing! Chip on my shoulder!!— sealver siliga (@S_Siliga) January 13, 2014
It's all about football, and about a billion other story lines when the Patriots travel to Denver to play the Broncos next Sunday with a season and trip to the Super Bowl at stake. Thankfully, Julian Edelman knows how to catch, run and block. While ex-Bronco Sealver Siliga can definitely tackle and bottle things up in the middle.
Even Rob Gronkowski is contributing.
Appreciate that @RobGronkowski! Wish you were out there to enjoy it with us bro! We miss you!— LeGarrette Blount (@LG_Blount) January 13, 2014
This is the AFC Championship Game match-up that many saw coming in August, and some of us still saw coming in September, October, November and December, even as the Patriots dealt with an Colorado-sized avalanche of player injuries.
"Next Man Up" has become as much a part of the "Patriot Way" as hard-line contract negotiations, position-salary allotment, trips to the AFC title game, intestine-twisting losses to the Giants and hidden video cameras.
The "Miracle in Foxborough" now includes a stop in Denver before [hopefully] ending with Tom Brady taking the knee at about 10:15 p.m. inside Met-Life Stadium on Feb. 2. Hopefully, the Patriots' team plane this week won't go anywhere near Omaha.
Where to start?
Well, it's Tom Brady- Peyton Manning XV. Or, perhaps more accurately: Hoodie/Manning XV. The Brady-Bill Belichick combination holds 10-4 edge over Manning and Friends.
Sunday's game comes 10 years and 1 day after Manning and his Colts played the Patriots for the AFC title in Foxborough. The Patriots won that game 24-14 as Manning threw four interceptions and Patriots running back Antowain Smith carried the ball 22 times for 100 yards.
It was seven years ago next Monday when Brady went to Manning's House and saw the Patriots' defense crumble in that AFC title tilt. New England lost 38-34 after giving up 32 points in the second half. Brady's last pass of that game was intercepted.
This season's AFC title is also another shot at redemption for Wes Welker, who fizzled when the Patriots and Broncos met in November. Welker returned to the field Sunday for the Broncos after missing four games and caught a TD pass while wearing a "Great Gazoo"-sized helmet to protect his multi-concussed head.
Wes Welker playing well with his new helmet pic.twitter.com/7fyYPXekiR— Scott Garrard (@ScottyG1280) January 13, 2014
Manning's legacy, which reportedly was at stake Sunday in Denver, is yet another compelling lure this week. Manning is the NFL's poster child for all that is good, safe and profitable.
He is the league's premier marketing tool and its most-popular [at least outside New England and on parts of Twitter] QB. The national storyline here will be one of Manning overcoming a serious injury and the legacy of Tim Tebow [and perhaps even John Elway] in Denver, and playing for a spot in the Super Bowl. Manning came through with a couple of monstrous third-down conversions Sunday and edged closer to reaching that elusive .500 career post-season record. [He's 10-11.]
No word if the Papa John's outlets in New England will be removing their Manning posters and propaganda this week.
Meanwhile, we know where Papa Gino's stands:
The most paranoid members of Patriot Nation probably feel like New England will be cast as the "bad guys" in this match-up.
Not sure why?
At least Sunday's game is on CBS. Nothing from their graphics people yet.
There's the resiliency of the Patriots. The team has been able to compartmentalize the crime[s] that Aaron Hernandez [allegedly] committed and his loss on the field, along with the departures of Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and far too many others to injury.
Who knew back when training camp opened that the two most important players on this team not named Brady as the Patriots headed into that predicted AFC title game match-up against Denver would be LeGarrette Blount on the offense and Aqib Talib on the defense?
Thank you, Tampa Bay.
The Patriots are headed into the legalized-pot haze of the aptly named Mile High City with a guy named Blount as their most potent offensive weapon. How great is that?
Denver coach John Fox had heart surgery during the season and missed four weeks. That's pretty compelling, at least for people in places like Ohio and Georgia who have no rooting interest in the outcome Sunday.
Phil Simms talked about Bill Belichick's "blood pressure" sky rocketing during Saturday's game. But we know the Hoodie doesn't have a "heart" or "blood pressure", but rather a CPU and battery levels.
Let's not forget Belichick's legacy. No one will know how this team ranks vs. his other performances until the season is concluded. Belichick has done a masterful job in resuscitating the careers of the two Tampa Bay castaways Talib and Blount. Rookie Jamie Collins will be anchoring the outside against Manning on those 3rd-and-8 passes. That is both comforting and a bit scary at the same time. Edelman [another 7th-rounder] and Danny Amendola combined have been more productive this season and less injury prone than Welker. Sure, it's two against one. But Welker was Brady's Binky of choice for six seasons.
Interesting note about Siliga. He has played on all four teams left in the NFL postseason since coming out of Utah in 2011. He was signed by San Francisco but was cut after the 2011 preseason. He landed with Denver in 2012 and had a stop at Seattle before he arrived in Foxborough this past October.
Imagaine what's on his iPad? A truly Belichickian acquisition.
There were moments on Sunday when the Hoodie was certainly salivating while watching the Broncos' offense sputter in their win over San Diego and again when Denver's defense faltered late.
Both circumstance and game-planning will alter the run, run, run, run, maybe pass, and run some more attack the Patriots used to demolish Indianapolis. Manning may be good for an interception or two, but he won't commit the same mistakes en masse that Andrew Luck did. Manning doesn't push himself beyond what is absolutely necessary, both when it comes to taking risks and being bold. That was demonstrated again on Sunday.
The Patriots are on the road. They haven't played a road playoff game since that loss at Indy in early 2007, although neither one of those Super Bowl losses to the Giants occurred in the 508. New England has not played well on the road this season, losing close games at Miami, Carolina, Cincinnati and against the Jets. The losses to the Dolphins and Panthers ended with Brady throwing interceptions in the end zone. Excruciating stuff.
This is New England's third-straight AFC championship game appearance. The 49ers reached their third-straight NFC title game Sunday, as well.
Speaking of paranoia:
For the dispassionate, or those wagering in Las Vegas on in cyberspace, the Patriots are a solid 6.5-point underdog. That line tells us that there are enough gamblers out there who think the Patriots have a shot to win this game, but it's really Denver's to lose.
Savor, appreciate and enjoy this one.
"Every year, they have a chance to win. That?s pretty cool," Barkley told WEEI's Mike Petraglia Saturday in the team's locker room. "If I'm a fan, I want my team to have a chance to win ... In 99 percent of the cities in every other sport, not just football, your team sucks. You have no chance of winning. The Patriots have a legitimate shot of winning every year. That's pretty cool ... It bothers me that y'all don't appreciate them having a chance to win every year."
We appreciate them, Chuck. Otherwise, we'd be watching the NBA regular season or be thinking about the Olympics.
There are a few certainties this week. Brady will have at least one TD pass in this round of the playoffs. And the Patriots won't be staging any successful 24-point, second-half comebacks against Denver like they did on Nov. 24 in their 34-31 victory at Gillette Stadium.
The rest remains to be determined.
Take it away, Bart Scott:
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