AFC Title Game Picks: Expert Shares How To Bet Patriots vs. Broncos

Sterling Xie

Saturday, January 23, 2016 6:14 PM GMT

Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016 6:14 PM GMT

With a rejuvenated offense that matches up well against the league's top defense, add Patriots to your NFL picks to cover the spread in the AFC Championship against the Broncos.

Conference Championship Total Pick
Conference Championship Player Props

Conference Championship Betting Handbook
Conference Championship Expert's Final Thoughts

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Free NFL Pick: Patriots -3
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

 

Seeing a road team favored on conference championship Sunday is a rare sight. With the New England Patriots holding steady as three-point favorites over the top-seeded Denver Broncos throughout the week, the Pats are poised to become just the sixth team since 2000 to be favored under such circumstances.

 

New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
Of course, these Patriots have experienced an unusual season, and thus do not bear much of a resemblance to typical underseeded road underdogs. New England was the best team in the league through the first three months, garnering a 10-0 record and a league-leading plus-140 point differential. That put the Pats on pace for a plus-224 point differential during the regular season; for reference, the Carolina Panthers ended up leading the league with a plus-192 point differential. Only two teams over the past 10 seasons have actually managed a point differential better than the one the 2015 Patriots were on pace for this season: the 2012 Patriots (plus-226) and 2007 Patriots (plus-315).

This year's rendition slumped down the stretch due to critical injuries on both sides of the ball, but in last week's divisional round win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Pats looked much more like their old selves on offense. In looking at the per-play offensive production, it's clear that Tom Brady greatly benefited from the healthy returns of Julian Edelman and Sebastian Vollmer, as well as additional rest for Rob Gronkowski:

 

Yards per Play

Yards per Pass

Weeks 1-10

6.2

7.8

Weeks 11-17

4.9

6.3

Div Round (vs. KC)

6.1

7.2

 

These numbers support the prevailing postgame narrative that the early-season version of the Patriots has gotten healthy just in time for the postseason. If New England really is going to remain this effective offensively the rest of the postseason, last week's showing against the Kansas City Chiefs bodes well for their ability to handle the Broncos stingy defense. The Chiefs and Broncos are elite defenses with similar foundations: Both have elite edge-rushers (Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware), excellent man coverage corners (Sean Smith and Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby) and playmaking box safeties (Eric Berry and T.J. Ward).

 

AFC Title Game Analysis
Granted, the Broncos were better statistically across the board during the season. Denver has no real weakness, having ranked first against the pass and fourth against the run by Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. Harris' gimpy shoulder is reason for concern, but Roby is still an adequate No. 2 corner across from Talib. Football Outsiders' database, which measures per-play efficiency dating back to 1989, rated the Broncos as the eighth-best defense they've ever tracked. Many have pointed to the fact that the Pats didn't have Edelman or Danny Amendola in their November loss at Denver, but the Broncos did not have Ware, while fellow starters Ward and Sylvester Williams left early in the game and did not return. Each team's signature unit will be closer to full strength than they were when the Patriots and Broncos met during the regular season.

And yet, it's hard not to side with the Patriots given their ability to create mismatches and minimize the effect of a defense's pass rush by getting the ball out of Brady's hand quickly. During their 10-0 start, the Patriots were favored in every game and went 5-3-2 against the spread. However, that ATS record is especially impressive when considering that New England was favored by at least a touchdown all but once, when they were one-point favorites at Buffalo.

We know the Broncos are committed to the running game with a diminished Peyton Manning, but the Patriots ranked 10th against the run during the regular season. Since their Week 4 bye, New England has played 12 games and allowed the opposing offense to eclipse 4.0 yards per carry just three times. With Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower healthy (Collins missed the first Broncos game, while Hightower left in the first half with a knee injury), it's difficult to envision C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman controlling this game as they did the first time around.

It's easy to envision the Patriots jumping out to an early lead as they force quick possessions from Denver's offense, giving Brady and Co. more time on the field and superior field position. The Broncos are a resilient bunch whose playmaking defense will inevitably keep Denver in the game, but ultimately, look for the Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl while covering the spread in the process.

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