It’s Brady v. Manning, Take 17

first_imgNEW YORK — The last time Tom Brady and the New England Patriots went to Denver, Peyton Manning watched the game on television from inside the locker room.Not on Sunday, though. The Broncos quarterback will take his customary spot in the huddle.Manning meets Brady for the 17th and likely last time, with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.Straight after their AFC title game will be the NFC’s, in which the Carolina Panthers will host the Arizona Cardinals in what could be a high-scoring matchup. The Panthers averaged more than 31 points this season, and the Cardinals were a close second at 30.5.Manning didn’t suit up against New England on Nov. 29 because of a foot injury. That game was a thriller, too, with Brock Osweiler leading the Broncos to a 30-24 overtime victory.Manning’s foot is as healed as it’s going to get for now, and after the six-week layoff he’s well-rested and really come through in Denver’s past two games. But this is hardly the same Manning anymore. He doesn’t rely on his arm nearly as much as his ability to decipher schemes. He also leans heavily on the running game, and Denver’s top-ranked defense.While he has only a 5-11 record against Brady, they’re 2-2 in the playoffs, including a win by Manning two years ago in the same Mile High Stadium.The quarterbacks deserve to be a focal point, but there’s a lot more to this matchup than them.Brady is the master of these situations, in his 10th AFC Championship game, seeking an astounding seventh Super Bowl appearance. As he displayed in last week’s win over Kansas City, his ankle is little or no issue, and when given time — as a timid Chiefs defense afforded him — he’ll pick you apart.He has the weapons now that wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, plus tight end Rob Gronkowski, are healthier. Because the running game is sub-par, Brady is going to throw often, leaving the onus to stop him on Broncos pass rushers DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and Derek Wolfe, plus whatever schemes coordinator Wade Phillips designs to pressure Brady.What could change the flow of New England’s offense is if the oft-jumbled line can’t protect Brady. Injuries have plagued that unit all season.Where the Broncos could have an edge is in the running game through C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Unlike the Patriots, Denver always tries to establish the ground attack. Not that the Patriots are easy to run against, although they’re undermined by the absence of injured linebacker Jerod Mayo, and a back issue hurting their best linebacker, Jamie Collins. But Denver must try to lighten the burden on Manning, whose team will start 3 1/2-point underdogs.The Panthers are favorites by a measly three points against the Cardinals, in their first meeting since the Panthers won their first-round playoff a year ago when the Cardinals were racked by injuries.The Panthers are 1-2 in their previous three NFC title games, reaching the Super Bowl in 2003 before losing 32-29 on a late field goal to New England. Arizona won in its only other NFC Championship game in 2008 before losing to Pittsburgh 27-23 in the Super Bowl.Quarterback Cam Newton was involved in 45 touchdowns this season, and he must be accounted for first and foremost by Arizona. Newton didn’t do much as a runner last week in the win over Seattle because he didn’t have to, as running back Jonathan Stewart set the tempo with his 59-yard burst on the first snap. But Newton can control a defense with his size, strength, speed, and savvy as both a passer and runner.The Cardinals need to keep Newton in the pocket while forcing him to throw before he wants to. That means they will keep bringing the blitz.Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has had perhaps the best season of his 13-year career, and is in the conversation for league MVP. But he comes off a mediocre performance against Green Bay in which his decision-making came into question. Perhaps he was nervous because he’d never won a playoff game.Now that he has, Palmer might go back to being the passer who can withstand the heavy pass rush he will get from the Panthers. Few teams have as versatile or deep a front seven; Carolina had five sacks against Seattle.When Palmer gets time, he’ll first look for venerable wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who had a sensational game against the Packers of eight catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. Cornerback Josh Norman is likely to get most of the coverage assignments against Fitzgerald, and that will be a highlight matchup on Sunday.TweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more

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AEK Faces Bayern Munich, Madrid Needs Win in Champions League

first_imgBERLIN (AP) — Three-time defending champion Real Madrid is in crisis after four defeats in five games as it returns to the Champions League on Tuesday.The question hanging over Santiago Bernabeu Stadium before Viktoria Plzen’s visit is whether club president Florentino Perez has already had enough of Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui.The former Spain coach, who took over after Zinedine Zidane’s surprise resignation, is on shaky ground after three straight defeats. Lopetegui’s team lost 1-0 at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League before two humbling defeats to modest Spanish league teams Alaves and Levante.Lopetegui said after Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to Levante that his main concern is “picking up his boys.”Even a win over Plzen may not save Lopetegui with Madrid facing an always demanding visit to Barcelona’s Camp Nou on Sunday.Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said he hopes a win over Plzen will help the team start to click.“Every three days you have a chance to turn this around,” Ramos said. “Tuesday we have another test. The best thing we can do is to remain united.”Madrid is unbeaten in 26 group games at home while Plzen – already bottom of Group G – has lost all three European games it has played in Spain without scoring.Here is a look at the four Champions League groups on Tuesday:GROUP EBayern Munich is targeting another win at AEK Athens after finally ending a four-game winless streak at Wolfsburg on Saturday. Tension at the Bavarian powerhouse was evident with club bosses blasting the media on Friday for unfavorable coverage during its uncharacteristic slump, but the mood is better now ahead of the visit to Athens.FILE – AEK’s Petros Mantalos, right, celebrates after scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot during the Champions League playoffs, second leg, soccer match between AEK Athens FC and MOL Vidi FC at the OAKA Spiros Louis stadium in Athens, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)The Greek champion is looking for its first points after losing both of its opening games to Ajax and Benfica.Bayern coach Niko Kovac will take encouragement from the fact the club has never lost in nine games against a Greek club.Ajax hosts Benfica in Amsterdam, where the home side will hope to build on its fine performance from its 1-1 draw in Munich.GROUP FShakhtar Donetsk ended Manchester City’s unbeaten start to the season with a 2-1 win when they met in the Champions League last year. This time round, Shakhtar welcomes City on an 11-game unbeaten run of its own, though most of that was against relatively weak opposition.City, beaten 2-1 at home by Lyon in its first group game, will be wary of another slip despite a confidence-boosting 5-0 win over Burnley on Saturday.Group leader Lyon visits Hoffenheim with forward Memphis Depay hitting form again at the right time. Depay impressed for the Netherlands during the international break and ended his 10-game scoring drought for Lyon on Friday.GROUP GWith most of the attention on Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow will hope to build on its win over the defending champions by beating Roma away on Tuesday.It won’t be an easy task. Since defeating Madrid, CSKA has lost to Lokomotiv Moscow and crashed out of the Russian Cup on penalties to a struggling second-tier team. It beat Russian Premier League relegation candidate Anzhi Makhachkala 2-0 on Friday.CSKA won’t want a repeat of its last away game at Roma. A 5-1 loss in 2014 was accompanied by racism and violence from the traveling fans, leading to CSKA being forced to play two European home games behind closed doors.Roma has also had a mixed run this season. Just as it seemed like Eusebio Di Francesco had sorted out his team’s problems, its four-match winning streak was brought to a halt by a 2-0 home defeat to Spal on Saturday.Roma has picked up only 14 points in Serie A so far, its worst tally from the first nine league matches since 2012-13.GROUP HJuventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo tries to score during an Italian Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Genoa, at the Alliance stadium in Turin, Italy, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)All eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo when he returns to Old Trafford looking to score for the third straight match against his former club – this time for Juventus.Ronaldo has played against Manchester United twice since leaving for Real Madrid in 2009. Both goals came in the last-16 stage in the 2012-13 competition.More than five years on and Ronaldo is still a goal-scoring phenomenon. On Saturday, he scored against Genoa in Serie A to become the first player to net 400 goals across Europe’s top five leagues.Juventus midfielder Emre Can will miss the game after being diagnosed with a thyroid nodule that could also require surgery.Young Boys hosts goal-shy Valencia in the other group game. Valencia hasn’t managed to score more than one goal in a match since Sept. 2.—By CIARAN FAHEY , Associated PressTweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more

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