|Setting the scene from the Mile High City as Patriots battle Denver Broncos in AFC championship||01.19.14 at 1:04 pm ET|
DENVER — Mother Nature is apparently a big fan of the Broncos and Patriots.
In January weather more befitting of Florida or Southern California, sunshine and 67 degrees is expected for the 1 p.m. MT kickoff here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, as the Patriots and Broncos do battle in ideal conditions for the AFC championship.
The temperature is expected to reach as high as 69 by halftime before cooling off in the evening.
If that holds, it will unofficially go down as the warmest outdoor game in Patriots playoff history.
On Jan. 12, 1986, when the Patriots beat the Dolphins, 31-14, the game-time temperature at the Orange Bowl was 64 degrees. It was officially 60 when the Patriots lost in the 1998 playoffs in Jacksonville. When the Patriots beat the Chargers, 24-21, in the 2006 playoffs it was only 53 and Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville was only 59.
Ironically, today’s AFC championship is the 12th anniversary of the epic “Snow Bowl” at Foxboro Stadium, a game won by the Patriots over the Raiders, 16-13, in overtime in the last game ever played at the venue.
The two biggest injury question marks coming into the game appear to be the health of two rookie receivers that could challenge the Broncos secondary deep.
Kenbrell Thompkins continues to nurse a sore hip while Aaron Dobson is dealing with a stress fracture in his left foot. Both were limited all week in practice and both were questionable coming into the game. Dobson returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the Colts playoff game.
The Broncos have won both previous playoff meetings against the Patriots in Denver, beating the Patriots 22-17 in the 1986 AFC divisional round and winning, 27-13, in the 2005 playoffs, the game most infamously remembered by New England fans by Champ Bailey‘s game-changing 100-yard interception return off a Tom Brady pass to the end zone.
The Patriots gained their revenge two seasons ago when they blew out Tim Tebow and the Broncos, 45-10, in the divisional round. Including Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Patriots beat the Panthers, 32-29, Bill Belichick is 2-0 against John Fox in the postseason.
|Patriots-Broncos predictions: Media prognosticators lean toward Denver taking close game||01.17.14 at 1:17 pm ET|
One thing is clear about the predictions coming in for Sunday’s AFC championship game between the Patriots and the Broncos — most believe it’ll be a close game. Both local and national media favor Denver, but, like the score predictions, neither team has a blowout lead.
On WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan, Gery Callahan was the only one to favor the Patriots. While Callahan thinks Tom Brady will lead New England to a 31-28 win, John Dennis (37-24) and Kirk Minihane (31-24) believe Denver will win it behind a Peyton Manning MVP effort. Minihane and Callahan predict the 49ers will take the NFC title, while Dennis projects the Seahawks will pick up the game on their own turf.
On Mut & Merloni, Mike Mutnansky is going with the Broncos, 35-28. Lou Merloni has the Patriots emerging victorious, 31-27. The two are split on the NFC game as well, with Mutnansky taking San Francisco and Merloni tabbing Seattle.
At SB Nation, the Patriots and Broncos split the panel, with Ryan Van Bibber, Jason Chilton and Stephen White leaning toward New England while Joel Thorman, David Fucillo and Matt Ufford predicting a Denver win.
ESPN‘s group of 13 panelists, on the other hand, favor the the Broncos. Merril Hoge, Adam Schefter, Mike Ditka, and Cris Carter project that the Patriots will come out with the win. Meanwhile Eric Allen, Mike Golic, Ron Jaworski, KC Joyner, Chris Mortensen, Mark Schlereth, Seth Wickersham, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson are sticking with Denver.
USA Today‘s panel of seven favors the Broncos 6-1, with Jarrett Bell, Jim Corbett, Lindsay H. Jones, Pete O’Brien, Tom Pelissero and Simon Samano favoring Denver. The lone vote for the Patriots came from Nate Davis.
Following are more predictions from around the country:
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 26, Broncos 23 – “The Patriots didn’t need to play the Bengals, and blew by the Colts. Now that they survived to get to the Broncos, it’s easier to trust them to advance. While the expected hype is around Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, the real matchup is Bill Belichick vs. John Fox.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Broncos 34, Patriots 31 – “It still sounds quite strange, but I think Tony Dungy had it right when he told me on Monday that this meeting of Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks will likely come down to the running games, and the run defenses.”
|Ex-Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker ready to face his old team again||01.16.14 at 6:00 am ET|
When asked Wednesday about Wes Welker and the impact he’s had on the Denver offense in his first season with the Broncos, coach John Fox and quarterback Peyton Manning didn’t mince words.
‘He’s been exactly what we thought we were getting,” Fox said when asked about Welker. “Even people in the New England organization said that we would enjoy coaching him, and we have. He came in, made a pretty big impact. The fact that he was voted captain and just got here is a pretty good indicator of what his peers and teammates think of him. He’s fit in in exactly what we thought he would be, and that’s important.’
‘Like Coach Fox said, a lot of things that I think a lot of people thought about Wes as an opponent all proved to be true once he joined us as a teammate,” Manning said. “I always assumed that he was an extremely competitive guy that loved football and a guy that loved to work, he loved to practice. The way he played ‘ I saw him many a time play Colts versus the Patriots ‘ so to have him become a Bronco, all those things checked out.
“He’s a gym rat. He loves the game, loves to work after practice [and] loves to talk in meetings about routes that he thinks might have a chance to get open,” Manning added. “He’s very knowledgeable of defenses and how teams have played him in the past, whether they’ve double-covered him or whatever it may be. So he’s been a fun guy to play with, I’ll say that.’
After six seasons in New England, Welker finished his first year with the Broncos with with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. After going down with a concussion that caused him to miss the final three weeks of the regular season, he returned to the lineup in last weekend’s divisional playoff win against the Chargers, and had six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Welker said that after his first game against the Patriots — which ended in a loss in his return to Gillette on Nov. 24, a game where he had four catches for 31 yards — he was able to get some of that nostalgia of facing his old team out of the way. Now, heading into this weekend’s AFC title game, the focus is on football.
‘It’s still another game,” he said Wednesday when asked about facing the Patriots. “You understand it is the AFC Championship, and everything like that. You want to go out there and prepare as much as possible. At the same time, it is still an opponent and it’s a team and you’re going out there and playing to the best of your ability and go out there and try to win the game.’
|Peyton Manning, Broncos teammates will enjoy win over Chargers before starting real prep work for Patriots||01.13.14 at 6:15 am ET|
In the wake of Sunday’s divisional playoff win over the Chargers, the Broncos acknowledged they were going to take a few hours to enjoy the moment before moving on to prepare to host the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC title game.
‘Well, I think I’m just going to enjoy this one first,” said Denver coach John Fox of the 24-17 victory over San Diego. “It hasn’t sunk in. We’ll dig into [the Patriots] tomorrow. We’ll enjoy it tonight for what it is. We’re very honored and pleased to be in that position.’
‘We’re going to address [the Patriots on] Wednesday,” said quarterback Peyton Manning. “We’ll certainly talk about them plenty on Wednesday. But, we’ll enjoy this one. You’re supposed to enjoy these wins. They’re hard to come by, and we’ll start working on the Patriots tomorrow.’
Two Denver players who have a history involving the Patriots are Manning and wide receiver Wes Welker — Manning because he’s so connected to Tom Brady (this will mark the 15th time they’ve squared off against each other), and Welker because of the fact that he spent six seasons with New England before signing with the Broncos this past offseason.
“Tom Brady has just been an outstanding quarterback for such a long time, but the game next week is the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning said. “I know there will be some individual matchups that will get headlines, but it will be a battle between two good teams. Teams that have been through a lot, that have overcome a lot to get to this point, and that’s where my focus will be — trying to help the Broncos get a win against the Patriots.”
‘It’s the AFC Championship game, so there will be plenty of juice,” said Welker.
It’ll be the second matchup of the season between the two teams — in the first game, the Patriots dug themselves out of a 24-0 halftime deficit to post a 34-31 overtime win.
Defensive end Robert Ayers said the Broncos are not going to be motivated to beat New England because of that November loss.
‘That’s not going to motivate me,” Ayers said. “I can’t speak for anyone else. That’s not going to motivate me at all. That’s the last thing on my mind. We have to go out there and try to win. Regardless of what happened last time, if we don’t bring our ‘A’ game, we’re going to lose. We’re just going to focus on bringing our ‘A’ game. We are going to enjoy this victory for the night and tomorrow we’re going to start back preparing and that is what we are looking forward to, just getting another win and moving one step forward.’
‘We’re looking forward to it,” said defensive end Shaun Phillips. “Obviously we’re the two best teams in the AFC because we’re playing for the AFC Championship, so what more can you ask for? That’s what you want as a football player. Tom Brady is my second favorite quarterback behind Peyton. I really like Tom. I think he’s a great player and a great person, but what better way to do it? You want the two best teams going head-to-head, and that’s what’s going to happen.’
|Bill Belichick doesn’t plan on ‘doing anything differently’ in light of John Fox, Gary Kubiak health issues||11.05.13 at 9:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Coaching in the NFL can be all-consuming. It can also be hazardous to one’s short and long-term health.
One needs to look no farther than this past weekend’s developments with John Fox and Gary Kubiak to see proof of that.
Texans coach Kubiak was released from a hospital Tuesday after suffering a transient ischemic attack during Sunday night’s game against the Colts. According to the Broncos, Fox remains “on track” to a full and complete recovery after undergoing surgery Monday to replace an aortic heart valve.
Bill Belichick, who normally gets away to a home on Nantucket, was asked Tuesday if the Fox and Kubiak cases make him think more about taking care of himself and taking extra time to rest during the bye.
“No, I don’t feel that way,” Belichick answered.
His daily routine would suggest the 61-year-old Belichick still takes superior care of himself, preparing for the rigors of the day-to-day demands of the job. He arrives early, runs and exercises regularly before beginning his day of planning, preparation and coaching.
“I’m comfortable with the schedule that I’m on and what I’m doing. I feel about what I feel normally at this time of the season which is good but it’s not like you feel on July 28 when you start the year or whenever it is. I feel good. I’m planning on making it through the rest of the year. I don’t really see, I don’t really plan on doing anything differently.”
|Adam Schefter on D&C: Dolphins OL Jonathan Martin ‘felt threatened, he felt harassed’ by teammate Richie Incognito||11.04.13 at 9:50 am ET|
ESPN’s Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan to discuss the ongoing Jonathan Martin bullying saga with the Dolphins, and the health issues of a pair of NFL coaches.
Miami announced on Sunday the indefinite suspension of offensive lineman Richie Incognito for his role in the alleged bullying of Martin, the Dolphins’ second-year lineman.
Martin left the team for emotional reasons last week, before Miami’s 22-20 overtime win against the Bengals on Thursday. A voicemail left by Incognito on Martin’s phone was the smoking gun, according to Schefter.
“They went over the transcripts of one voicemail last night, and made the determination to suspend Richie Incognito immediately,” Schefter said, adding: “Richie Incognito is on the Dolphins’ leadership council. … It’s unbelievable to think that he wielded his powers the way that he did.”
The reported trigger for Martin’s absence was a lunch room incident. According to ESPN, Incognito also approached Martin last summer to help fund a trip to Las Vegas with a group of Dolphins players. Martin donated $15,000 out of fear of retribution if he didn’t, but he never joined his teammates.
“We’ve seen in the NFL, veterans take rookies out and rookies picking up big dinner tabs and things of this sort,” Schefter said. “This went above and beyond that. This was an example where Jonathan Martin felt threatened, he felt intimidated, he felt harassed.”
It’s unknown when Martin will return to Miami, and how long Incognito’s suspension will last.
“The union is in a very difficult spot, because it is the union’s job to defend Richie Incognito,” Schefter said. “However, once the union gets a copy of this one particular voicemail, and the instances and text messages, the defense is going to be difficult to do.”
|John Fox: Dan Koppen ‘did a fantastic job’ for us this season||02.21.13 at 11:13 am ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Dan Koppen was one of the final cuts for the Patriots prior to the start of the 2012 season, but the veteran center quickly found a home in Denver. And when the Broncos lost starting center J.D. Walton early in the year to a broken ankle, Koppen stepping in and served as the starter for the rest of the season.
On Thursday morning at the scouting combine, Broncos coach John Fox said they were “fortunate” to find someone like Koppen, who helped stabilize the Denver offensive line and provide a spark for a late-season run.
“We were really fortunate. I thought our personnel department did a terrific job,” Fox said when asked about Koppen. “Dan Koppen stepped right in like nothing ever happened, and he was a big reason we were able to go on that run. You have a guy waiting in the wings when J.D. got hurt, and we really didn’t drop off a lot when he stepped in. He did a fantastic job, and he’s a guy I have a lot of respect for.”
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Stats the Patriots Must Improve in 2014
- Cuts That Could Create Serious Cap Space for Pats
- Bargain Guide to Patriots' Offseason
- State of the Patriots at Start of 2014 Offseason
- Patriots 2014 Mock Draft with Scouting Profiles
- Manning Deserves Appreciation in Patriot Nation
- Patriots' Initial 2014 Draft Big Board