Patriots have to pick their poison

It doesn't get any better than Sunday's AFC Championship Game, a matchup of two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Being a teammate of Brady's for so many years, seeing him start from a scout-team quarterback when he first came in backing up Drew Bledsoe to his progression of becoming a Super Bowl MVP and three-time champion is something I'll never forget. To witness his work ethic and competitiveness firsthand, it's no surprise to me that he's still playing at a high level at this point in his career.

Having been an opponent of Manning so many times, especially when he was in his prime, to be on the field and marvel at some of the throws he made ... this Brady/Manning debate will last forever. Who is the best quarterback? Is it Super Bowls? Statistics? Who had the better teams? Stronger arm? Bigger competitor? On so many of these questions, I don't believe there is a wrong answer. They are both very special players.

I just feel that every time they play each other, the debate should be revisited, but it's almost like the endless debate that never has a definitive answer. This is the highest possible point they can meet. Since they both play in the AFC and can never meet in the Super Bowl, this is the biggest game they can play in, with the most on the line.

Enjoy it, people.

Now let's get to your questions:

Q. Tedy, is this deja vu 2006? Brady leads an underdog scrappy bunch, with no-name receivers, into Manning's house against a team with loads of talent, with the AFC Championship on the line. Hoping for a better outcome this time around, but any comparisons you could draw between those two Patriot teams, and Colts and Broncos teams? -- Peter (Worcester, Mass.)

A. I think there are definitely comparisons between the two Patriots teams, with the revolving door they've had at the skill positions. In 2006, we had receivers like Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel and Chad Jackson. The talent pool wasn't close to Manning's that year. I agree with the comparison from that standpoint, but the identity of this offense is different because of the running game. I don't think we had a running game like this one.

Q. In my opinion, one of the biggest differences between the first game against the Broncos and the one on Sunday is the presence of Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. He has been a Manning go-to guy in pressure situations like the key big third downs he faced against the Chargers. How do you see Patriots' defense matching up against him? It's a key for New England to stop him. I can see Jamie Collins on him, but I'm not sure if it's favorable. I also thought about Aqib Talib taking him out, but he has Demaryius Thomas to cover. What are your feelings about this? -- Renato (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

A. Renato, I think that's a good point. It's a big difference with him on the field because of the way Bill Belichick's defenses account for receiving tight ends. Belichick-coached defenses like to defend the middle of the field first. That's where tight ends such as Thomas attack. Without him on the field on Nov. 24, it allowed the Patriots to focus on other areas, like Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas. With Julius Thomas in the game plan, it changes the emphasis.

Q. What do you think would be the best way to slow down Denver's offense? Blanket receivers like Welker and Eric Decker or try to slow their running game? Are there any players we need to worry about that didn't play in our previous meeting? -- Jim (Rock Hill, S.C.)

A. We touched on Julius Thomas earlier in the chat. From a general standpoint, I'd defend everything from the inside out. You want to make Manning make throws outside the numbers. Areas of focus: Welker in the slot, Julius Thomas in between the numbers, and of course, first and foremost, stopping the run. If they beat you with 20-plus-yard throws down the field, to the outside, you have to shake their hand and say, "Congratulations." You just have to make it tougher on Manning that way.

Q. Collins clearly had a big game, but I'm worried about him long term, is he too light to hold up against a Seattle or San Francisco running game? -- Mike (Washington, D.C.)

A. Mike, let's not get ahead of ourselves, buddy.

Q. To what do you attribute the sudden emergence of Collins, and can he replicate that disruptive performance against Denver or was it an anomaly against Indy? -- Matt (East Brookfield, Mass.)

A. I don't think it was an anomaly. I think Collins just has a full season of coaching under his belt. Sometimes it takes a young player a little while to understand what's asked of him in a Belichick-coached defense. Matt Patricia, the defensive coordinator, has had a full season to figure out what Collins does best. The fact that Collins broke out and made some huge plays in a big game is a good sign that he is starting to understand what is asked of him and is turning that into playing "free" football. What I mean by "free" football is this: Once you understand what you're doing out there, and you're not thinking, your instincts and playmaking ability kicks in.

Q. The Broncos game this season was arguably the low point for the Patriots' run defense. Is it just me or have we made it back to "passable?" And if so, how much credit goes to the mystery man, Sealver Siliga? -- Ben (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

A. The Broncos rushed for 280 yards against the Patriots in November. That just hurts me to say it. Yes, the Pats had a lot of difficulty stopping the run in that first matchup against the Broncos. Siliga can hopefully help, because the interior of the Broncos' offensive line dominated the Patriots all game long. I don't see any adjustments the Patriots can make to stop it, in terms of adding an extra player in the box. Because if you add an extra player in the box, Manning will audible to the pass and attack you that way. So the way it's going to be is the way it was in the first matchup -- six men in the box, he'll see that favorable matchup, and they will attempt to run the ball. I remember going up against the Colts and our defensive coaches telling us, "All you're going to have is six in the box to stop the run. You have to get it done because we're going to have bigger things to worry about in the back end." That's the case again this week because of guys like Demaryius Thomas, Decker, Welker and Julius Thomas.

Q. What was your favorite AFC Championship moment? -- Ben (Maine)

My favorite AFC Championship moment was when we went into Pittsburgh and won after the 2004 season. That was a return trip for us after getting blown out there in the regular season. The odds were stacked against us going into Pittsburgh that year, and we still came out with the Lamar Hunt trophy.

Q. I think the Pats should just run, run, run down Denver's throat. You agree? Why will it work or why won't it? -- Chad (Denver)

A. If you go by last week's game, that's who the Patriots are right now -- they are a power-running football team with LeGarrette Blount leading the way. But let's not confuse the Patriots with a team that does the same thing from week to week. This is a game-plan team, and you never know what Josh McDaniels will come up with against the Broncos. There are so many different matchups in this game than in the Nov. 24 contest. The Patriots don't have Rob Gronkowski and the Broncos don't have Von Miller. You ask the question, "How will the loss of both of those players affect the offensive game plan?"

Q. What matchup next Sunday are you most looking forward to watching? I am very curious to see how Collins shadows Julius Thomas, especially after his performance last week. -- Guy (America)

A. I think the matchup I'll be watching, based on the Nov. 24 game, is the interior of the Broncos' offensive line against the Patriots' defensive line. Center Manny Ramirez had his way and I'm looking to see if it's still that way, and if the Broncos can run for 200-plus yards again.

Q. Put yourself in the Denver offensive coordinator's shoes. How would you attack the Patriots' defense? I might do what the Pats did on Saturday and run, run, and run some more (despite having a Hall of Fame quarterback). -- Steve (Moultonborough, N.H.)

A. Steve, the thing about Manning is that whatever he sees at the line of scrimmage will dictate what play is run. If there are only six in the box, he'll call the run. If they're having success running the ball, and then he sees a run-based defense, he'll audible to the pass. I'd definitely test the Patriots' run defense, just as Denver did last time. The Broncos had a lot of success. Depending on the wind, I'd like to get the ball in my playmakers' hands, such as Demaryius Thomas with quick screens and Welker in the slot, and see what plan the Patriots have for Julius Thomas.

Q. Through the evening and into the morning I have heard and read several analysts and writers not give the Patriots much hope of beating the Broncos. I am sure you have encountered this during your playing years. Curious to know how a players process this mentally? -- Brandon (Cincinnati)

A. Players in the locker room will answer that they don't pay attention to that type of stuff. That's true at times, but in a game of this magnitude that garners this much attention, you can't help but read, hear and see what others are saying. Players will use this as motivation. Coaches will use this as motivation. Coaches will tell their players what other people are saying to use it as motivation. Sometimes the biggest motivation players can have is that "us versus the world" mentality.

Join Tedy's weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.