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Setting the scene: Patriots-Broncos

01.14.12 at 12:12 pm ET

FOXBORO — After enjoying one of the mildest seasons in franchise history, Mother Nature will turn Gillette Stadium into an outdoor freezer for tonight’s AFC Divisional Playoff between the Patriots and Broncos. Temperatures in the low 20s with a bitter wind of 17 MPH are expected for kickoff. The thermometer is expected to dip to as low as single digits by the end of the game. The Patriots will hand out 20,000 hand warmers tonight to help fans battle the brutal cold.

There will be plenty of comparisons to the last bitterly cold Saturday night AFC Divisional Playoff in Foxboro.

It was four degrees above (-16 C) for the 8 p.m. kickoff on Jan. 10, 2004, a game referenced in Kirk Minihane’s column about the Gillette Stadium crowd. The wind chill that night in 2004 made it feel like -11 as the Patriots edged the Titans, 17-14 on a late Adam Vinatieri field goal and a defensive stand.

Tonight, the wind chill is expected to be around 6 degrees with it dropping throughout the game.

The Patriots come into the game with 13 players listed as questionable, including offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who injured his left knee in the Christmas Eve win over the Dolphins. The left guard limped off the podium on Thursday after speaking to the media for the first time since his injury. Mankins is expected to dress and test the left knee in warmups at his standard left guard position. Mankins injured the knee when he was filling in for Matt Light at left tackle, when Light couldn’t push off his right foot warmups.

Another player to keep a close eye on is safety Patrick Chung. He returned from a right foot injury in Week 17 against the Bills and fully participated on Thursday in practice. But he suddenly appeared on Friday’s injury report as limited and questionable with a knee issue.’s Christopher Price has 10 things to look for in tonight’s match-up.

For the Broncos, receiver Eric Decker is out with a knee injury while long snapper and former Patriots snow angel artist Lonie Paxton is out for personal reasons. Paxton is dealing a medical issue in his family. Taking Paxton’s place is 18-year NFL veteran David Binn, who was signed Friday by the Broncos, after 17 seasons with the Chargers.

The Patriots are trying to end a three-game playoff losing streak, having lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, the wild card showdown with the Ravens two years ago and last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff to the Jets.

The Patriots started off 8-0 lifetime in playoff games at Gillette before losing their last two.

With a win, Bill Belichick can tie Chuck Noll for fourth place all time in NFL playoff wins for coaches with 16. Tom Landry is tops on the list with 20, while Don Shula has 19, and Joe Gibbs has 17.

Of course, Belichick’s three Super Bowl rings as head coach is second only to Noll (4). Gibbs and Bill Walsh also have three.

The Patriots and Broncos met in this same round in Jan. 2006 in Denver. That’s when Champ Bailey intercepted Tom Brady and raced up the left sideline 100 yards, just beating Ben Watson to the end zone. The Broncos would win the game, 27-13, losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the next week.

This is third playoff meeting all-time between two of the charter members of the AFL. The Broncos have won both in Denver, also winning 22-17 on Jan. 4, 1987, the season after the Patriots won their first of six AFC Championships. The Broncos are the only team to have beaten the Patriots twice in the postseason.

Read More: 2012 NFL playoffs, 2012 playoffs, Bill Belichick, David Binn



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