The AFC Championship game has New England heading to Denver for a highly anticipated Sunday afternoon match up. The Patriots and Broncos have provided fans with some great games over the past few seasons. The championship game brings not just the top two seeded teams in the AFC together but also the top two quarterbacks of this era of football to face each other once again in what is likely the last Brady vs Manning post season match up. With the high stakes of a Super Bowl appearance on the line, the hype of a Brady vs Manning contest, and the pairing of Gronk, Edelman, and Amendola vs the Denver secondary led by Harris Jr, Talib, and the physically dangerous T.J. Ward has also led to some entertaining banter between the teams.

In a SportsCenter interview Tuesday Chris Harris Jr. was asked about stopping Rob Gronkowski, his response was the following: “You gotta hit him low, man. Hit him in his knees. That’s the best chance you got of hitting him.” As many know Gronkowski has had his share of injuries, particularly to his knee dating back to the 2013 ACL and MCL tear precipitated by T.J. Ward’s untimely contact to the knee at the exact moment Gronk planted his foot in the ground. The hit jarred open the debate of low hits being clean hits as Gronk was sidelined with the season ending injury. Another scare for the big tight end happened on a snowy night this November in the lost to Denver where a shoulder to knee appeared much worse than it actually was and had Gronk and all of New England holding their breath. To be fair to Chris Harris Jr tackling Gronkowski low may be the only way to drag him to the ground. He is too big and strong for most defensive backs to pull down alone and, with speed to out run linebackers if able to get loose, is one of the best yards after contact receivers in the league. Whether Gronkowski actually took offense to the comment about hitting him low or just sounded off in anticipation of the biggest game of the season Gronk responded in a very Gronk way with this double entendre via twitter: Without diving into the implied meaning of the duel-edged comment it is clear to see Gronkowski fans and followers will likely have a laugh at the expense of an unappreciative Broncos squad, as tensions between the teams continue to rise heading into Sunday.

With the history of these two post-season giants, a quarterback rivalry dating back over a decade, Gronkowski’s history and Ward’s presence the comments made by Harris and response from Gronk have gained a lot of traction in the build up to Sunday’s game. Ultimately this is probably the least serious thing that will be discussed this week leading up to the game but it is entertaining to see the two sides go at each other and for those following along to have a laugh as the Broncos now have some great white board material. After all it is going to almost necessary as the week rolls on to talk about something other than Brady vs Manning statistics and which analyst picks who as the best quarterback of the era. At this point both signal callers know that success is measured in rings and both will be playing for a chance to get their teams to another Super Bowl and solidify an already established greatness.

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The AFC Championship promises to be a great game. After defeating Kansas City and Pittsburgh, respectively, the New England Patriots will travel to Denver to play the Broncos on Sunday for a trip to Santa Clara. The main storyline will be the 17th matchup between future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the fourth time it has come in the AFC Championship.

On Saturday, Tom Brady looked much like he had during the first 10 games of the season. With Julian Edelman back and Rob Gronkowski having a full workload, Brady was able to get rid of the ball quickly and move the Patriots down the field. Edelman was not available the first time the Patriots played the Broncos this season and the team struggled at times to move the ball against a great defense. With him back, the Patriots will be able to put up points much easier.

On the other end of the spectrum, Manning didn’t play terrible, but he did not look like a quarterback capable of winning this week. He threw for 222 yards, but the Denver offense was quiet for most of the game and if not for a key fumble by Fitz Toussaint in the fourth quarter, they might have lost.

In order to win this week, the Broncos cannot rely on Manning. They will need big games out of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson at running back. In order to counter this, the Patriots front seven will need to match the Denver running backs in the running and passing game. The Patriots’ ability to do this will come down to two players up front, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. This is significant because the first time these two teams matched up Collins did not play and Hightower left early with an injury.

They were both on the field for most of the Divisional Round game. The Chiefs had 135 yards rushing, but 44 of those were on Alex Smith scrambles or designed runs. The Kansas City running backs combined for 28 yards receiving as well, putting their overall yardage output at 119. If the Patriots can hold the Denver backs to that number, it is unlikely the Denver offense will be able to put up more points than the Patriots.

Against the Steelers, Hillman or Anderson carried the ball on 31 of 70 offensive snaps and were also targeted four times in the passing game. Together, that is 50 percent of the offensive snaps that running backs were the focus. Denver didn’t show much ability to get the ball downfield outside of one catch by Emmanuel Sanders that went for 34 yards and one catch by Bennie Fowler that went for 31 yards. However, both of those passes traveled fewer than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

This is where Collins and Hightower come into play. The Patriots love to use both of them to blitz the A gap (between the center and the guard) to either create pressure up the middle or blow up run plays. Hightower can also cover well and Collins is an excellent coverage linebacker.


Collins and Hightower will need to makes plays in order to contain the Denver running backs. It almost sounds blasphemous to suggest that a team should force Manning to beat them, but that’s what this season has come down to. The more the Patriots can make Manning throw the ball downfield from the pocket the better. Eliminating the run game and his safety valves in the passing game will make it difficult for Denver to keep pace with New England.

Despite having an excellent defense, the Broncos are still going to need to put up points. If Collins and Hightower play well throughout the game, the Broncos won’t have enough juice to reach Super Bowl 50.

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According to police records and several media outlets, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones was hospitalized on Sunday due to a medical emergency. The cause of the hospitalization has not been made public.

Jones arrived at the Foxborough police department on Sunday morning and was evaluated by five officers and subsequently taken to the hospital. An officer was also sent to Jones’ home in order to “secure the residence.”

While acknowledging that Jones had been to the hospital, the Patriots said in a statement that Jones had shown up for work on Monday and not missed any meetings or practice.  The Foxborough Police Department initially did not acknowledge that it dealt with Jones but later did and added that it was due to a “medical call.”

At this point, details are not easy to come across and it does not appear that this incident will affect Jones’ status for the team’s playoff game on Saturday. Things could change between now and then and this story bears monitoring over the next several days.

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Julian Edelman

There’s good news on the injury front for the Patriots, according to WHDH Sports Director Joe Amorosino.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman has been cleared to play in Saturday’s game against the Chiefs. Continue reading Julian Edelman Cleared to Play Against Chiefs »

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Jeremy Maclin

Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left the field during Saturday’s 30-0 win over the Texans in tears… but the man with two career torn ACLs apparently did not suffer a third.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Maclin suffered a high ankle sprain. Continue reading Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin has High Ankle Sprain, Not Torn ACL »

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Matt Patricia

Even though the Patriots are in the throes of the NFL Playoffs, that doesn’t mean their attractive assistant coaches can’t seek head coach openings across the league.

Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, who has been with the team for 12 years, interviewed with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.  Continue reading Browns Interview Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia »

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Saturday afternoon the Patriots, with a #2 seed bye, had the opportunity to watch their next opponent, the red hot Kansas City Chiefs, who annihilated the Houston Texas during the first game of Wild Card Weekend with a final score of 30-0. The Chiefs were dominant on defense and forced a shaky Houston offense into a borderline embarrassing performance. Kansas City was able to get after Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer forcing a fumble and four interceptions. Despite the pressure put on by the Chiefs defensive line Hoyer was also his own worst enemy making terrible decisions, particularly in the red zone. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and the KC offense was efficient against a tough Houston defensive that held them to just six points in the first half however they led 13-0 at the break thanks to a 106-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown by Knile Davis to start the game. In the second half the Chiefs were able to open up the lead as Hoyer and the Texans continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Kansas City, playing on the road, was not phased by the 71,000 screaming  fans or defensive stud J.J. Watt who they avoided with quick hitting pass plays, screens, sweeps and extra manpower. Alex Smith finished the day 17 of 22 for 190 yards with a touchdown and a rare interception, coach Andy Reid’s experience and game plan worked perfectly. Kansas City is now riding an 11-game win streak coming into Foxborough for next week’s divisional round playoff match up and should be as confident as ever.

One key problem for the Chiefs is the status of star receiver Jeremy Macklin who has been a go to guy for Alex Smith all season. Macklin suffered and injury to his ACL late in the second half of the win in Houston and did not return. He is due to have an MRI today to assess the extent of the damage, KC fans will be crossing their fingers in hopes that Macklin does not have a tear in that right knee. Maclin caught 87 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. Also banged up coming into the game against the Patriots will be Tamba Hali with a thumb and knee injury who had limited action against the Texans but is a key figure in the pass rush for KC that will be essential to getting pressure on Tom Brady, the formula for disrupting the flow of the Patriots offense. Linebacker Justin Houston also seemed to tweak his knee which has been a lingering injury for him this season causing him to miss five games. Continue reading Pats Draw Streaking Chiefs For Divisional Round Playoff »

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