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The Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots on Sunday, January 24 in the AFC Championship Game. This will be the second meeting between these teams this season as the Broncos took the first by a final of 30-24 in overtime at home back on November 29.

Denver (13-4) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16 at home in the AFC Divisional Round last weekend. Peyton Manning finished 21 of 37 for 222 yards without a touchdown or an interception as the Broncos had to settle for five field goals in the win.

New England (13-4) topped Kansas City 27-20 last weekend. It took the opening drive for a touchdown and never looked back, leading the entire way. Tom Brady went 28 of 42 for 302 yards and two touchdowns to lead the way for the Patriots.

Kickoff inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High is scheduled for 3:05 EST Sunday with CBS providing the television coverage. Taking a look at the odds in Las Vegas, I find New England listed as a 3-point favorite over Denver with a total set of 44 points.

My Early Lean: Broncos +3

This season just has a special feeling about it for the Broncos. Peyton Manning wants to go out a Super Bowl champ the same way that John Elway did before him, and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if that happens. The Broncos won their final two regular season games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC, yet they continue to get no respect from oddsmakers as 3-point home underdogs here.

Manning returned against the Chargers in Week 17 and led four scoring drives in five possessions in the second half after replacing Brock Osweiler. He then played a much better game than his final numbers showed against the Steelers in a 23-16 win in the Divisional Round. He went 21 of 37 for 222 yards without a touchdown or an interception.  The Broncos uncharacteristically dropped a whopping seven passes from Manning, yet they still found a way to win.

The reason was the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL this season came up big once again. They held the high-powered Steelers to just 16 points for the game. The Broncos ranked 1st in total defense (283.1 yards/game), 1st in passing defense (199.6 yards/game), and 3rd in rushing defense (83.6 yards/game) during the regular season. This stop unit is the reason they are a serious contender to win the Super Bowl.

New England has no business being favored with the way it has closed out the season. It went 0-2 in its final two games in Weeks 16 and 17. It lost in overtime to the Jets in a game that was not as close as the final score showed considering the Jets outgained the Patriots by 144 yards. New England also lost 10-20 at Miami in the finale with home-field advantage in the AFC on the line. That game also wasn’t as close as the final score as the Dolphins outgained the Patriots by 242 total yards.

Against the Chiefs, the Patriots were outgained for a third straight game by 38 yards this time. They have now been outgained by an average of 143.3 yards per game in their last three contests. Their defense gave up 378 total yards to a very vanilla Chiefs’ offense. The Patriots suffered two key defensive injuries in that win over the Chiefs, too. Linebacker Jamie Collins had to leave the game with a back injury and is questionable to play this week. Fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo left with a shoulder injury and is questionable this week as well. If both or either can’t go, it would be a huge blow to the Patriots.

Perhaps the biggest reason I like the Broncos as 3-point home underdogs this week is the fact that the home team has dominated this series. Indeed, the home team is a perfect 6-0 SU & 6-0 ATS in the last six meetings.

Perhaps the biggest reason I like the Broncos as 3-point home underdogs this week is the fact that the home team has dominated this series. Indeed, the home team is a perfect 6-0 SU & 6-0 ATS in the last six meetings. That includes a 30-24 (OT) win at home for the Broncos in their first meeting this season on November 29. That game wasn’t as close as the final score indicated as the Broncos outgained the Patriots 433-301 for the game, or by 132 total yards. The Patriots are 1-5 ATS in their last six trips to Denver.