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Broncos rally late, beat Steelers to earn date with Patriots in AFC championship 01.17.16 at 7:49 pm ET
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C.J. Anderson (22) and the Broncos ran past the Steelers with a late rally. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

C.J. Anderson (22) and the Broncos ran past the Steelers with a late rally. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

There will be a 17th meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning next week for the AFC championship.

The Broncos converted the first Steelers turnover of the day into a go-ahead score as Denver wiped out a 13-9 deficit by scoring 14 straight points in a 23-16 win over Pittsburgh, setting up a Patriots-Broncos AFC championship rematch next Sunday in Denver.

The Broncos beat a banged-up Patriots team two years ago, 26-16, at Sports Authority Field to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Brady leads Manning 11-5 overall in the previous 16 meetings. But the two have split the four playoff meetings and Manning has won the last two in the playoffs.

“It’ll be the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning told CBS’ Tracy Wolfson after the game. “To quote Bill Belichick, ‘I’ll be onto New England.'”

Manning, who looked ineffective most of the day, finished 21-of-37 for 222 yards and no touchdowns.

Playing without his top weapon in Antonio Brown and with a damaged throwing shoulder, Ben Roethlisberger relied on his defense and his running game to build leads of 10-6 and 13-9.

With the Steelers marching downfield, second-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint fumbled the ball with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Manning led the Broncos down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. Manning brought the Broncos to the line quickly and called a run for C.J. Anderson. Anderson powered it over from one-yard out with exactly three minutes left. The 2-point conversion to Demaryius Thomas was good, giving the Broncos a 20-13 lead.

It was Denver’s first touchdown in 23 postseason possessions.

Roethlisberger could only get the Steelers to the Pittsburgh 40 before getting sacked on fourth down. The Broncos successfully took time off the clock and added a field goal from Brandon McManus, his fifth of the day, with 53 seconds remaining. Chris Boswell converted a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining to draw the Steelers within one score, 23-16. But the ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Broncos’ Anderson with 14 seconds left.

The AFC championship will be in Denver, in part, because the Broncos erased a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit and came from behind to beat the Patriots, 30-24, in overtime earlier this season. The Patriots also lost their final two regular season games, opening the door for the Broncos to capture the No. 1 seed.

Earlier in the day, the Panthers beat the Seahawks, 31-24, to set up an NFC championship showdown with the Cardinals, meaning the top two seeds in each conference have advanced to their respective championship games.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger, Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning
Mike Florio on D&C: ‘Don’t be shocked if [Rob] Gronkowski is a lot closer to fine than the injury report suggests’ 01.15.16 at 10:43 am ET
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Mike Florio

Mike Florio

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk and NBC Sports made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan with Minihane and predicted a Patriots victory over the Chiefs, while suggesting Rob Gronkowski‘s injuries might not be as severe as reports this week imply. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Gronkowski is dealing with knee and back problems that caused him to miss some practice time this week, and there was a report that he had an injection into his knee. Florio said this might be a case of the Patriots trying to create some confusion so the Chiefs don’t know what to expect.

“Here’s the thing that I was told last night by someone very familiar with the dynamics of the Patriots organization: You get to this stage of the season, and it’s winner take all, don’t believe everything you see and hear, basically,” Florio said. “I don’t want to call it chicanery, per se, and I don’t call want to call it cheating. There’s just gamesmanship that occurs. I think that’s the right word for it. … Don’t be shocked if Gronkowski is a lot closer to fine than the injury report suggests. That’s all I’m saying. Don’t be shocked if that’s the case.”

Added Florio: “It’s just creating uncertainty, creating confusion. Go back to Bill Belichick‘s background — Military Academy, Navy. Cloak and dagger, the whole thing. Just keep ‘€˜m guessing. They don’t know what’s coming. They don’t know what we’re going to do. They don’t know who’s healthy. They don’t know who’s not healthy. And the irony is, as Bill Belichick would say, ‘We prepare for everybody as if they’re going to be a hundred percent, everybody on the roster, that’s what we do.’ But still, you have to ultimately figure out what you’re going to do in practice, how you’re going to divvy up the reps with the scout team, how you’re going to focus, how you’re going to defend, how you’re going to do this. And if this confusion is being thrown out there as the Chiefs are trying to finalize their plan for Saturday, that is useful.”

Looking at Sunday’s game, Florio said the Patriots get the nod despite their injuries and because of their history of success at home in the postseason.

“I picked the Patriots in this one just because it’s the Patriots playing at home in the playoffs,” Florio said. “I know they’re not invincible at home in the postseason. But history and their experience — you look at the Chiefs’ experience in the postseason, Andy Reid‘s experience in the postseason, Alex Smith‘s experience in the postseason. I think that the more of these games that you’ve been through as an organization — head coach, quarterback — the more likely you are to be sufficiently prepared to win.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Mike Florio
Rodney Harrison on OM&F: ‘No one on the Chiefs can defend’ Julian Edelman 01.13.16 at 12:47 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison checked in with Ordway, Merloni & Fauria on Wednesday morning to discuss the Chandler Jones situation and other league news. To hear the interview, go to the OM&F audio on demand page.

Jones went to the Foxboro Police Department on Sunday morning and was taken to the hospital after reportedly taking some pills. Harrison said he does not know exactly what happened, but he’s sure the Patriots will be careful with how the treat it both privately and publicly — with players unlikely to joke about it even though it appears Jones is OK.

“In a situation like that, it’s a very serious thing. You never want to make fun or laugh or joke with a guy who’s going through a situation like that,” Harrison said. “So I don’t think it’s anything funny. If anything, you’re going to get a lot of support from your teammates, from your coaches and things of that sort. And then Coach [Bill] Belichick does a good job. He says, ‘Guys, it’s none of your business. Don’t answer it in the media. You can’t talk to something that you don’t know much about.’ I think that’s his way of kind of dealing with the situation.”

Looking at Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, Harrison said the return of a healthy Julian Edelman would make a monumental difference.

“I’ve said all the time, and people think I’m crazy when I say he’s the most important player outside of Tom Brady on that team. I just believe that,” Harrison said. “He’s a guy that can relieve a lot of pressure off of Brady because he gets open so quickly. Rob Gronkowski, I think he benefits from Julian Edelman. I don’t think there’s any guy in this league who can defend him one-on-one.

“He does so many things, especially the run after the catch. He’s so dynamic in the open field. He’s so valuable. If he can come back and if he can be 70-80 percent of what he was, I think that really benefits the Patriots. No one on the Chiefs can defend this guy.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger, chandler jones, Marvin Lewis
Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Chiefs ‘a very, very dangerous team’ 01.11.16 at 8:40 am ET
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ESPN’s Tim Hasselbeck made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan with Minihane on Monday morning to discuss the NFL playoffs and explain why the Chiefs are a tough matchup for the Patriots. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Following Saturday’s 30-0 victory over the Texans, the Chiefs head to Foxboro having won 11 consecutive games.

“They’re a unique team,” Hasselbeck said. “They’re not your standard team that you kind of have similar issues in terms of defending them, how you get ready for them. One of the things that’s probably really widely unnoticed is how well this group is coached. Andy Reid was run out of Philadelphia, and a lot of people try to beat him up about clock management and things that are viewed as blunders throughout his career as a head coach. But I can tell you, and I was with him for just under two years, the guy is an amazing football coach. And the other thing he does is he surrounds himself with tremendous assistants.”

Added Hasselbeck: “Alex Smith — you can say what you want about Alex Smith, but he basically, playing for Andy Reid, throws 20 touchdowns, throws less than 10 picks, and he’s insanely efficient, and extends a lot of drives running the football. So I think they’re a very, very dangerous team. It’s hard to argue with the success they’ve had on this run they’ve been on.”

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin injured his ankle Saturday and it’s not clear if he’ll be able to play against the Patriots. However, Hasselbeck said it won’t be as difficult to make up for his absence based on the way the Chiefs play — and based on the presence of talented tight end Travis Kelce, who has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski.

“It’s a number of different ways that they get to this stuff,” Hasselbeck said. “So if Maclin’s out, what you’ll see is somebody like Albert Wilson, who’s a decent returner, or Frankie Hammond, who’s a decent returner as well, finding ways to manufacture those guys getting touches where they’re not running an in-cut, where they’re not running a comeback. Like, finding ways to get guys the football in ways that they’re comfortable getting it, and you have the ability to get it to them. So I think that ends up being the tricky part about defending them.

“As it relates to Kelce, he in a way is a little bit like Gronk in a sense that you have a hard time figuring out how you’re going to really defend him, because he’s lined up as an in-line tight end, and they’ve got an extra offensive lineman in there with him, and so you think, ‘Am I defending the run here? Am I doubling Kelce? What am I doing off of this?’ So I think it presents some troubles kind of formationally and personnel-wise in terms of how you defend a guy that’s good in the running game but then also has got very good speed once he gets rolling. That ends up being the trick with Kelce.”

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Read More: Alex Smith, Andy Reid, Ben Roethlisberger, Tim Hasselbeck
Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Steelers’ ‘ability to score makes them very, very dangerous’ 12.14.15 at 9:23 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck made his weekly appearance with Dennis, Callahan & Minihane on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ victory over the Texans and other news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Most of the talk leading into Sunday’s game was about the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, but the Patriots defense was the key, keeping the Texans out of the end zone all night.

“I think you’ve got to give a good amount of credit to the Patriots defense. I thought it was a really good performance by the guys on that side of the ball,” Haselbeck said. “You just look at some of the things that Houston has been doing in recent weeks, they’ve done a tremendous job of getting DeAndre Hopkins involved, they’ve actually been fairly efficient running the football, for the most part [Brian] Hoyer‘s been protected pretty well and he’s done a pretty job of just moving the football and getting big plays.

“So I think if you look at the way they defended Hopkins, the fact that when the moment-of-truth situations with Nate Washington trying to play the football, jumping in and out of the different things that Houston was trying to do to speed up the tempo, get into the wildcat stuff.

“I thought they ended up — New England — doing a very good job just kind of handling all of that stuff on the road. And that’s why you saw very little offensive production by the Texans.”

The Bengals took a huge hit Sunday when Andy Dalton broke the thumb on his right hand during a loss to the Steelers. Combined with the Broncos‘ loss to the Raiders, the Patriots (11-2) were able to move back into the No. 1 spot in the AFC. The performance of the Bengals and Broncos (both 10-3) leads some to conclude that the Steelers (8-5) might be the Patriots’ biggest threat in the conference.

“They’re certainly a hot team right now,” Hasselbeck said. “Their ability to score makes them very, very dangerous. They have three legitimate wide receivers — I mean, legitimate guys. They’re protecting Ben [Roethlisberger] better because [Alejandro] Villanueva is playing better at left tackle. I think [offensive coordinator] Todd Haley, for all that people kind of want to dog him from his experience as the head coach [of the Chiefs] and he’s kind of a confrontational guy, he’s gotten pretty creative with some of the things that they do so that they still get touches to Antonio Brown, and then they get Martavis Bryant on a couple of shot plays.

“And Ben — look, Ben for whatever reason kind of doesn’t get put in the same class as some other quarterbacks that have achieved some of the stuff that he’s achieved. He’s good inside the design of the play in the pocket, he’s good outside of it. I think it’s a pretty dangerous team. They need to get their secondary to play better, but that’s a pretty good group.”

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Read More: Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Brock Osweiler, Peyton Manning
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 4: Cardinals move into top 3 behind Patriots, Packers 09.29.15 at 11:01 pm ET
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Chris Johnson and the Cardinals are riding high in the NFC. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Chris Johnson and the Cardinals are riding high in the NFC. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The top five teams all won in Week 3, but the Cardinals and Broncos swapped places in light of Arizona’€™s dominant performance vs. the 49ers. Everyone expected the Patriots to roll over the Jaguars, and they delivered. We’re only three weeks into the season but the hype machine is rolling through Boston, with many fans anticipating another undefeated regular season. Bill Belichick and the Patriots head into the early bye with almost no injuries, and in Week 5 they will head to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that has lost its starting quarterback and best wide receiver. The Patriots hype won’€™t be slowing down anytime soon.

The Steelers drop seven spots with the loss of Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Tomlin better hope Michael Vick has been reading the playbook, as he’ll be expected to get the ball to Antonio Brown for the next four to six weeks. Brandon Marshall is pretty much solely responsible for the Jets dropping nine spots after his ill-advised lateral attempt gift-wrapped a turnover for Chip Kelly’s floundering Eagles. Another AFC East team dropped six spots as the Dolphins continue to wait for Ryan Tannehill to progress into a franchise QB. (More on him later.)

The only team I really wanted to move up this week was the Falcons. Coach Dan Quinn made substantial adjustments at halftime, and after allowing 28 points to the Cowboys in the first half, Atlanta allowed none in the second. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor continues to impress with his mobility in the pocket. He just looks comfortable back there, and Rex Ryan‘s defense bounced back after getting throttled by Brady and the Pats in Week 2 to beat the Dolphins. The Colts (begrudgingly) get moved up three spots after a narrow victory over the Titans.

1. (1 last week) Patriots (3-0) — A thrashing of the Jaguars keeps the Patriots on top. After the bye, they play the injury-plagued Cowboys followed by the Colts, Jets, Dolphins, Redskins, Giants and Bills at home before their first real test in Denver against the Broncos. It’s not too early to think about Tom Brady being in the MVP conversation, which is great for the employees at 345 Park Ave.

2. (2) Packers (3-0) — Aaron Rodgers obliterated a (usually) good Chiefs defense. I think last year’s meltdown in the NFC championship game will galvanize the Pack for the entire 2015 season. Cheeseheads should be booking hotels in San Francisco as soon as possible.

3. (4) Cardinals (3-0) — Chris Johnson‘s resurgence with Arizona is a bit of a surprise. His 2,000-yard seasons likely are behind him, but he looks better than he ever did with the Jets. Larry Fitzgerald is staving off Father Time for another season. He’€™s got 333 receiving yards and five touchdowns in three games.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Marshall
Ben Roethlisberger: ‘I always felt that [Patriots] knew some of our offensive plays’ 09.15.15 at 4:10 pm ET
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Ben Roethlisberger said he's always suspicions the Patriots knew some of the Steelers' offensive plays. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Ben Roethlisberger said he’s always been suspicious of the Patriots knowing some of the Steelers’ offensive plays. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Following the Steelers having headset issues at Gillette Stadium in last Thursday’s season opener, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger discussed the perception that the Patriots have inside information about an opponent’€™s game plan.

Appearing on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh Tuesday morning, Roethlisberger said he “always felt that they knew some of our offensive plays” dating back to the AFC championship when he was a rookie in 2004.

“Whether we were outcoached or outplayed or they had some kind of a leg up, I always felt that they knew some of our offensive plays,”€ Roethlisberger said (via Pro Football Talk). “For whatever reason. Maybe it was better scouting or whatever. But I had always felt that. But I’€™m not one to sit and say, ‘€˜Hey,’€™ you know, to pout about it or talk about it. I just felt that they were –€” they beat us on that day and maybe I was a rookie and didn’€™t know any better but I always felt that the knew some of the plays we were calling.”

As it relates to last Thursday’s game, Roethlisberger said the headset issue only occurred when the Steelers had the ball.

“€œIn a lot of games, the offensive coordinator to quarterback headset, there’€™ll be –€” whether it’€™s one play, it’€™s static, something — it’€™ll go out,”€ Roethlisberger said. “It doesn’€™t matter if it’€™s at home, on the road, it just never fails. There’€™s almost always some kind of communication [problem]. But it’€™s real brief. It never lasts very long. I think the difference this time — and this is, like I said, there was no communication issues really between Coach [Todd] Haley and myself –€” but what I was told and what Bruce [Gradkowski] told me when he listened is that when we had the ball on offense, our coach-to-coach communication, so the guys up in the box to the guys on the sideline, were not only hearing themselves but they were hearing the radio broadcast of the game. And from what I was told from Coach Haley it was only when we had the ball. When the Patriots had the ball there was no radio broadcast.”

This came before Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the matter was over — “Really, that’€™s it for us,” he said.

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Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin,

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