AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots face Denver Broncos for Super Bowl berth

Last Updated: 19/01/14 8:34pm

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Knowshon Moreno: Denver Broncos' star running back will be a key component in Sunday's match up

Knowshon Moreno: Denver Broncos' star running back will be a key component in Sunday's match up

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The New England Patriots are no strangers to the AFC Championship Game, but this is the first time since 2005 the Denver Broncos will be vying for a Super Bowl place.

The Patriots, who reached the Super Bowl at the end of the 2007 and 2011 seasons, lost last year's AFC Championship Game to eventual NFL champions the Baltimore Ravens.

The Broncos enjoyed a productive season in 2012, but they will be looking to put right their double-overtime play-off defeat the Ravens this time around.

Home-field advantage

The Broncos will have home-field advantage with the game being played at Mile High Stadium in Denver after John Fox's side finished the regular season with a 13-3 record while the Patriots had one more defeat to their name at 12-4.

It will be interesting to see just how playing in Colorado will benefit the Broncos, who overcame a somewhat nervy finish to finally finish off the plucky San Diego Chargers at the same venue last weekend.

The Patriots marched into the AFC Championship Game following a demolition job of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts last time out.

Head-to-head

The teams met during the regular season with the Patriots coming from a remarkable 24 points down to clinch a 34-31 success over the Broncos on home soil.

Manning struggled in the cold somewhat, averaging just 4.2 yards-per-pass in cold and windy conditions while Brady put up 344 yards, three scores, and 31 points after half-time in rough conditions.

Manning v Brady XV

Very little can be said about these quarterbacks that is not already known. Broncos QB Peyton Manning, like counterpart Tom Brady, are future Hall of Famers as they both have illustrious careers behind them.

Many felt Manning's career was on the wane following his departure from the Colts, however he has put his injury problems aside and produced some of his best football in Colorado.

Manning surpassed the record for passing touchdowns in a season last month after throwing four against the Houston Texans, taking his tally to 51 for the campaign. He eventually finished with 55.

In truth, Manning was just taking back a record he set in 2004 with 49 touchdowns. Brady overtook that record with 50 during the 2007 season but now Manning has it back.

Brady has not looked back since leading the Patriots to a remarkable 20-17 success over the St Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, being one of the league's best-ever since. He also leads Manning 10-4 in the head-to-head stakes.

Running game

The Patriots hardly even needed Brady against the Colts with running back LeGarrette Blount unstoppable on the ground. Not only did he rush for 166 yards, but he also reached the end zone four times.

The Broncos will need to curb Blount's yardage if they are to harbour any hopes of taking on either San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in February.

The Broncos spilt their running duties against the Chargers with Knowshon Moreno picking up 82 yards while Montee Ball also collected a useful 52 yards on the ground.

Missing Men

Both teams are not without notable absentees with the Patriots missing tight end Rob Gronkowski due to a torn ACL, although they have had to battle without the offensive star for much of the season.

Brady still has plenty of targets to aim for with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola his primary receivers.

The Broncos have be shorn of the services of cornerback Chris Harris for not only this weekend's clash, but also the rest of the play-offs after he fell victim to the dreaded ACL tear as well.

He sustained the injury during third quarter of the Broncos' win over Chargers, meaning he will be given a watching brief for Sunday's clash. Denver had already lost two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Von Miller to another ACL tear.

Watch coverage of the Patriots taking on the Broncos live on Sky Sports 1 from 7:30pm on Sunday

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