Knowing what to expect in the coming AFCCG, one has to understand the three main personalities that are going to decide its outcome. Brady, Manning and Belichick.
Belichick is a strategist, he is a student of the game, he knows how to take away a team's best weapon, and exploit its biggest weakness. When Bill Belichick has the players who can execute his plans, to near perfection, his teams are nearly unbeatable.
Human nature being what it is, Free Agency, and injuries all conspire so that Belichick rarely has all the tools he needs or wants to get the job done anywhere close to perfection, and he often has to scale back what he would like to do, or what he knows needs to be done, to fit who and what he has to work with.
If you have seen NFL Network's A Football Life on Bill Belichick, you may remember him sitting in a meeting room with his staff, telling them exactly what to expect an opponent to do, and that they needed to make it a priority to stop it... then come game time, sure enough, what he warned them of happened... he just didn't have the staff or players who were smart enough to get done what he told them needed to be done.
From 2001 to 2004, Belichick had one of the brightest and experienced staffs in the NFL, he had Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Rob Ryan, Dante Scarnecchia, and others, many who had spent years under Bill Parcels.... and during that timeframe, when they had a relatively healthy roster, they were practically unbeatable.
In 2006 Belichick had a bunch of 'wet behind the ears' coaches in comparison, like a young Josh McDaniels, and it was the Colts who had a veteran and savvy coaching staff. Staff and player upheaval continued for many years after 2004, and it is only now, after all these seasons, that I believe Belichick has a staff that is near the equivalent in experience and capability, to what the Patriots had during their Championship years.
But having the right staff is only half the battle. You need to have the players to execute as well.
Obviously on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots have Brady. Even if you believe Manning to be the better QB, any fair minded fan would admit that Brady is a close enough second, that he all but negates any advantage the opponent has in having Manning... Brady is just as capable of running an offense and being clutch in the most critical moments of a game as anyone, Manning included.
Belichick has the best collection of Secondary players he has ever had to work with for this game. I wouldn't say that he has any CB better than Ty Law was, nor would I say he has any S as good as Harrison was...
But the whole of Talib, Ryan, Dennard, Arrington, McCourty, Gregory and Harmon are collectively the best Secondary unit he has had to coach in the playoffs.
And while the DTs may be considered average... the DEs with Ninkovich, Jones and Carter are more than adequate and up to the task.
And now they have a wildcard in Jamie Collins, a linebacker with the athletic ability to be put anywhere and be capable of making a play.
This season Belichick isn't relying on a bunch of street FAs no one remembers anymore in the Secondary, like he was in 2011... nor is he relying on a knucklehead like Meriweather and the midget Hobbs like he was in 2007.
This season he has just enough talent and depth in the Secondary to take away the best weapon the Broncos have, Mr. Manning himself. And that is why the Patriots will win.