Peyton Manning vs. Bill Belichick Round 18 is Biggest Matchup of AFC Championship

By Brian Kalchik
Steve Milne-USA TODAY Sports

When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning talks, everyone listens. No one could ignore the fact that Manning said New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was the best head coach ever.

If there were anyone to say that outside of the Patriots organization, it would be Manning.

This Sunday’s AFC Championship Game will be the 18th time that Belichick will prepare a scheme to stop Manning, who in 2013 had the best regular season in NFL history for a quarterback.

This is why the matchup between Manning’s offense and Belichick’s defense will decide who reaches the Super Bowl more than the matchup between Manning and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who are in their 15th matchup head to head.

Belichick had Peyton’s number during the Patriots’ glory days of the early to mid 2000s with the coach going 7-1 against Manning. Since the Patriots’ last Super Bowl in 2004, however, Manning barely has the upper hand with a 5-4 mark against Belichick and the new-look Patriots.

While this game will not feature the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Ty Law for the Patriots or those of Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne for Peyton, there are still plenty of matchups that both Manning and Belichick will try to exploit on Sunday.

Manning has a complete arsenal of offensive playmakers in receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno. All can capitalize on opportunities if they are not the main focus of the defense.

For Belichick, he will have to combat these skill players with a depleted defense. Gone are All-Pro players in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, both on injured reserve, and linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was essentially kicked off the team for behavioral issues. While Belichick has a shutdown corner in Aqib Talib, there are not a lot of proven parts on this defense. Belichick has seldom used rookie Jamie Collins, who thrived in the win over the Indianapolis Colts, and pass-rush specialist Chandler Jones, so the cupboard is not completely bare on defense.

Peyton’s offense dominated the first half of the first matchup between these teams in the regular season, holding a 24-0 halftime lead before the Patriots rallied to win 34-31 in overtime.

While there was drama in that game, Sunday’s game will be even bigger with the winner of the Manning-Belichick 18 matchup ultimately deciding who goes to Super Bowl 48 rather than Manning-Brady 15.

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