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AFC: Long-time nemesis in Manning’s path to a third career Super Bowl

USA TODAY Sports New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Gillette Stadium.


Peyton Manning is one win from advancing to his third Super Bowl, but he’ll have to get past a longtime nemesis when the Denver Broncos host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Manning shattered a number of passing records — including Brady’s single-season touchdown mark - and is an overwhelming favorite to win an unprecedented fifth MVP award. Standing in his way is Brady, who is attempting to become the first quarterback to reach six Super Bowls.

It will mark the 15th overall matchup and fourth in the postseason for the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Brady has dominated the rivalry with a 10-4 record against Manning, including a 34-31 overtime win in New England on Nov. 24 — a game in which the Patriots erased a 24-0 halftime deficit. “It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning said.

TV: 2p.m., CBS. LINE: Broncos -5.5. O/U: 55.5.

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (13-4): Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting with Denver, but his 25 TDs - fewer than half of Manning’s 55 - and 87.3 passer rating represented his lowest marks since the 2006 season. Brady did not crack 200 yards in his last three games and played a supporting role in last week’s 43-22 rout of Indianapolis, failing to throw a scoring pass as New England rode a punishing running game led by LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley, who combined for 218 yards and six touchdowns. The 250-pound Blount has been a monster down the stretch with 431 yards and eight scores in his last three games, including a sledgehammer 166-yard, four-TD performance a week ago. New England’s defense, which allowed an average of 21.1 points during the regular season, registered four interceptions and three sacks against Colts QB Andrew Luck last week.

ABOUT THE BRONCOS (14-3): Manning orchestrated the top offensive season in league history, throwing for 55 touchdowns and an NFL-record 5,477 yards as Denver became the first team to surpass 600 points. The Broncos are the first team in history to have five players score 10 touchdowns, including wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, ex-Patriot Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas, who missed the first matchup with New England but had six catches for 76 yards in last week’s 24-17 win over San Diego. Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 83 yards and a score last week, rumbled for a career-high 224 yards on 37 carries in the earlier meeting with New England as Denver relied on the ground game in frigid, windy conditions.


1. Brady (6,147) and Manning (5,909) rank 1-2 in career postseason yards.

2. Manning is 10-11 in the postseason, including a 1-2 mark against New England.

3. Patriots coach Bill Belichick can tie Tom Landry (20) for the most playoff victories in league history.

PREDICTION: Broncos 30, Patriots 23