Much about the AFC Championship game appears to favor the Patriots, from the initial point spread to the way each team looked in winning its divisional game.
But one intangible worth considering this week: How much Peyton Manning’s teammates want to help him go out a winner.
The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla has a good look at that angle in his column following the Broncos’ 23-16 win over the Steelers Sunday.
“The 23-16 victory against Pittsburgh wasn’t pretty,” Kiszla wrote. “Hey, growing old never is. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to watch, and at the same time, it’s a privilege for his teammates to help Manning win one more championship before he goes.”
Broncos players reinforced the notion.
“If you have faith in a cause greater than yourself, that’s powerful,” defensive end Antonio Smith said. “Even when a man is in dire need for one’s self, he will not give as much for himself as he will for his brother. That’s the essence of love.”
Add in the top-seeded Broncos being underdogs in their own stadium on Sunday, and there’s some serious motivation on Denver’s side.
“Manning vs. Brady. One more time. With feeling. It’s going to be special,” Kiszla wrote.
Here’s a look at some other news and commentary about the Broncos as championship week begins:
■ ESPN’s Broncos reporter, Jeff Legwold, outlines three reasons the Broncos can beat the Patriots on Sunday. The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders gets a little more specific on the mistakes Denver made Sunday that need to be fixed.
“Dropped passes, blown coverages and short-circuits in the red zone,” Saunders wrote. “That formula won’t cut it if the Broncos are to beat quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.”
■ Broncos cornerback Chris Harris is dealing with a left shoulder injury. The player who filled in for Harris on a lot of plays, Bradley Roby, ended up playing a crucial role in Denver’s victory. Roby punched the ball out of Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint’s hands and Denver recovered and then began its only touchdown drive of the game.
Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler is also reportedly hurting, although he was active Sunday.
■ Manning gave a game ball to receiver Demaryius Thomas to give to his mother, who saw her son play in the NFL for the first time since being released from federal prison. Katina Smith was convicted in 2000 on drug trafficking charges but had her sentence commuted by President Obama.
■ Denver Post columnist Woody Paige’s take on the Broncos win Sunday will put Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on endless loop in your mind because that’s his lead sentence. The rest is mostly a recap of the high points in the game, followed by a predictable wrapup:
“The journey is not over. Manning has won the 198th victory of his 18 regular and 15 post seasons. He and the Broncos refuse to stop believing.”
■ The early forecast for next Sunday in Denver, from Fox 25’s Sarah Wroblewski: Partly sunny, highs in the 40s.
■ It didn’t take long for the Patriots to get in Manning’s head.
“To quote Bill Belichick, we’ll be on to New England,” he said to CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson after the game Sunday.
Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.