Over the next few weeks, we'll analyze the NFL playoffs using EA Sports' powerhouse football simulation, Madden NFL 25, determining the pros and cons of each team and picking an overall winner.
It's come down to this in the AFC – a championship game that will once again have two players going at each other. On one side, Tom Brady, who leads the New England Patriots marching into Sports Authority Field at Mile High. In another, Peyton Manning, who found a comfortable groove with the Denver Broncos.
Over the years, Manning and Brady have played against one another, and each have come away with victories. This Sunday, they'll settle their differences once more, as the Patriots battle the Broncos for a shot at a Super Bowl championship.
New England Patriots – Madden NFL 25 Team Rating: 88
New England put up a fight last week. In the game against the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Tom Brady held his own with no problem against the Colts' defense, resulting in a number of points while avoiding sacks that would cost him negative yardage. By comparison, the Colts just couldn't keep up, and the Patriots' defense mauled them, managing to run away with the game by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
Once again, receivers like Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount played a huge part in the game, and will continue to do so this Sunday against the Broncos. With them in the backfield, Brady should have no problem putting up big offensive numbers.
Playing as the Patriots
One thing to keep an eye out for is the Broncos defense. These guys have a way of breaking through the offensive line and obliterating a quarterback, whether by sack or incomplete passes. Even Brady, someone who's capable of handling himself in the backfield, could find his hands full with Champ Bailey and others popping up.
That said, Brady is still a fine QB when it comes to completing passes, so stick with those first. Make sure you can find a good receiver to open up for you, either long or short, and go ahead and get them the ball. You could consult Ask Madden to see what pass plays work best from the New England playbook, but mid-range to long plays are good for eating up the yards – especially once Blount gets the football. He scored at will last week, and can easily do so here. Just make sure to have a good offensive line to keep Brady protected.
On defense, you need to try and shut down Manning whenever you get the chance. He's just as able-bodied and accurate a quarterback as Brady, so the key is to either stop him from getting the ball in the air, or stick to receivers like glue. Failing to do so will put points on the board for the Broncos, and make your job a lot tougher. Find defensive formations that click for you, and stick with them – they may just pay off in the long run.
Denver Broncos – Madden NFL 25 Team Rating: 89
The Broncos improved their playoff performance this year, even if the team relied more on the defense rather than the offense against the Chargers. Instead of running roughshod over that team, it kept the game a little too close, allowing Philip Rivers and his squad to (almost) catch up. Thankfully, the Broncos defense kicked in when it needed to, and Manning's last minute drives kept the ball in his team's possession, securing the win.
Against the Patriots, they won't have such an easy time, but with Champ Bailey and Wes Welker back at full strength, not to mention receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno doing their job, they have the capability to put a high number of points on the board. The team simply needs to forget about the lulls that cost them last year's contest against the Ravens (who would go on to win the Super Bowl) and strive to find their rhythm. If they can do that, Manning and the boys will be back at the Super Bowl in no time.
Playing as the Broncos
Like Brady, Manning likes to pass, and he does so with swiftness and accuracy. With that, consult your playbook to see what plays are available. Don't hesitate to throw a few short balls to keep the chains moving, because that's progress that will eventually get you into the end zone. By the same token, throw the New England defense for a loop and go for the long bomb every once in a while as well. If you see Thomas getting open down the field and there aren't a lot of defensive men around him, go ahead and hurl it his way.
Rushing is also a strong suit with the Broncos, so mix in a few running plays as well. Try to find open gaps in the Patriots' defense – they are there, you just have to make sure you time them right. However, watch out for blitzes. They might be expecting a runner, so you may have to improvise with a juke or two.
On defense, well, the offensive line is stellar, and Brady is usually on his mark, but the Broncos achieved plenty of sacks. Just try to watch for openings in the defensive line – don't get fancy – and make a beeline for the ball. Even if Brady's preparing to pass, you can jump for it and either stop it, or maybe even score the interception.
So Who Wins?
This was a highly competitive game – one of the toughest we've seen in this playoff series to date. However, in Madden NFL 25, the Broncos managed to upend the Patriots 38-35 on a last second field goal. Matt Prater is very reliable with his kicks, and he makes a stellar one from 40 yards.
That's not to say New England can't get the real-life upset. They've won on the road before, and in tougher venues than Sports Authority Field. If Brady can keep his head on straight and his squad backs him up, they could easily surprise Manning and the Broncos.
It'll be a fight to the finish, but based on home field advantage – and of course, the power of Manning – we can see the Broncos making a return to the Super Bowl.
Madden NFL 25 is available now for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PC.