A year ago today, on January 24, 2016, the New England Patriots faced the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game for the right to advance to the Super Bowl. Plenty of people thought that game was going to be over before it even started, though, as these pre-game takes illustrate:
I think the Pats will rout the Broncos…. And I'm hoping Palmer and Fitzgerald can make it to the Super Bowl.
— Drew Copley (@DrewASJax) January 24, 2016
Patriots 45 Broncos 10
— Pittsburgh Slim (@PittsburghSlim) January 24, 2016
I'll take New England by 14+
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) January 24, 2016
.@tonymess I feel bad about this bet because it's like taking candy from a baby @Patriots=
.@4029AJ Pats over Broncos 54-14, Cardinals 35-0 #NFLPlayoffs #AZvsCAR #NEvsDEN
— Pedro Rivera (@4029Pedro) January 24, 2016
Even famed rapper Uncle Luke got in on it, albeit referencing “the England” (do they have a NFL team?):
You can put the England in the Super Bowl Denver has no chance
— LUTHER R CAMPBELL (@unclelukereal1) January 24, 2016
The disrespect for the Broncos went back even further, with huge numbers of people presuming they were doomed against the Patriots after they edged the Steelers 23-16 the previous week. One was former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, who went so far as to predict a blowout:
Well that game was about as horrid as I expected. The Patriots might win by 30.
— Cassandra (@ChrisWarcraft) January 18, 2016
He wasn’t the only one going big on the predicted score:
Opening line better be +45 for Broncos. Denver gonna lose to #Patriots by 6TDs.
— Tim Caputo (@Tim_Caputo) January 18, 2016
Not everyone was as bold with a score prediction, but these guys were far from alone in thinking New England would roll:
Congratulations to the New England Patriots for advancing to the Super Bowl tonight.
— Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek) January 18, 2016
@JeffMaineSports Broncos are terrible. Easy win.
— Danielle Waugh (@DWaughNBCBoston) January 18, 2016
Anyone looking for quick ££££££'s take the spread Pats over Denver !! Banker
— Rodney Marsh (@RodneyMarsh10) January 18, 2016
Patriots in the Super Bowl another year. Great.
— Joseph Milord (@JoeMilord) January 18, 2016
Looks like the Tom Brady & @Patriots F-You tour will be crushing Denver next week.
So the Super Bowl will be the Pats against somebody.
— Brian J. Haddad (@BrianJHaddad) January 18, 2016
Many figured Peyton Manning’s less-than-stellar play throughout the year and against the Steelers (where he completed just 21 of 37 passes for 222 yards with no touchdowns) didn’t bode well against New England:
The Patriots are only -3 vs the Broncos next week? Bill Belchick against a shot QB who can't move or throw? Yes, please.
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) January 18, 2016
Patriots going to KILL ole noodle arm
— Kelley Bydlon (@Kelley1063) January 18, 2016
I thought 2015 would be the last time we'd see the Patriots beat Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship so that's nice
— Jason Nawara (@JasonNawara) January 18, 2016
It will be more fitting for Tom Brady and the Patriots to beat Peyton Manning in his final game. #PITvsDEN
— Adam Rank (@adamrank) January 18, 2016
Others opined that the Patriots were cheering about facing the Broncos instead of the Steelers:
Belichick and Brady just celebrated that Broncos win with a high five.
— Josh Looman (@Josh_Looman) January 18, 2016
Others had already moved on to guessing who New England would face:
So the real question is who does everyone have playing the Pats in the Super Bowl? Panthers or Cardinals?
— Jake Ciely (@allinkid) January 18, 2016
Nothing about today has changed my opinion.
Carolina blows the doors off Arizona.
Patriots whack Broncos.
All bets are off in SB….
— EvanFitzgerald Fox32 (@EvanWFitzgerald) January 18, 2016
Patriots Panthers it is then.
— Jon Boorman (@JBoorman) January 18, 2016
Panthers vs. Patriots will be a heck of a Super Bowl. It was the last time they met.
— Aaron J. Fentress (@AaronJFentress) January 18, 2016
Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl
— Joe Ostrowski (@JoeO670) January 18, 2016
Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl rematch increasingly likely. No Vinatieri this time
— Jeff Cox (@JeffCoxCNBCcom) January 18, 2016
(Hey, at least those last five got their NFC predictions right!)
In the end, those skeptical of Manning weren’t wrong. He only wound up throwing for 176 yards and two touchdowns against New England, and completed just 17 of 32 attempts, just over 50 per cent. However, he didn’t turn the ball over, and Brady did, tossing two interceptions (and only completing 27 of 56 passing attempts himself, 48 per cent, albeit for 310 yards). The Patriots also didn’t have a ground game; Brady finished as their leading rusher, with 13 yards on three carries, while Denver’s C.J. Anderson had 72 yards on 16 carries. It went down to the wire (producing a killer 31.8 rating for CBS in the process), but the Broncos pulled out a 20-18 win, and they made all these takes supremely frozen in retrospect.