First of all, there's the oft-repeated statistic that the Patriots, in the era of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, are 10-0 in the postseason. That's better than Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. In terms of consecutive victories, in fact, that's better than anybody.
Jake Plummer, meanwhile, is 1-3 in the playoffs lifetime. The Broncos as a team, coincidentally, are 0-3 in the postseason since 1998.
Supposedly, Plummer has been born again this season, but not everyone believes it'll last. "Three interceptions in two playoff games isn’t the stuff of a clutch quarterback," points out Karen Guregian. Plummer's interceptions may have gone down in this regular season, but he has yet to prove himself a different man in the postseason.
The Patriots will have to play on the road...where they've already won three AFC championship games in the last four years.
The Patriots lost to the Broncos in Week 6 this season...and Belichick is 14-0 since 2001 when facing the same team for the second time in the same season.
The Broncos are 22nd in the NFL in third-down conversions; 29th in the NFL in pass defense and kickoff coverage; and 32nd in the NFL in sacks. Meanwhile, the Patriots' Willie McGinest just broke the postseason career and single-game sack record last week. Furthermore, according to Fox Sports,
When you hear that McGinest passed Bruce Smith and Reggie White, you figure he only did it because the Patriots have played so many more postseason games — but you would be wrong. McGinest took only 17 games to break a record Smith and White set in 20 and 19 games, respectively. Impressive.
According to the brilliant Patriots' blog Reiss' Pieces, the Patriots like to open with a bang, outscoring opponents in the first quarter 90-55. Reiss also passed along that Tedy Bruschi is not--repeat not--on the Patriots' injury report this week.
Add it all up and what do you get? A record-breaking Patriots' pass rush against a quarterback who has yet to prove himself in the postseason on one side of the ball, and a versatile offense led by a record-setting first-ballot Hall of Famer on the other.
A commenter at the always-erudite Football Outsiders put it this way:
[Belichick vs. Shanahan] will look...like a “AHA!” followed by a “NUH-UH!” as each coach shuts down option after option. The key points, I think, will be how the QBs adjust...
How the QBs adjust? Any time "QB" is mentioned among the keys to any game, a Patriots fan gets that smug smirk on their face the rest of the league loves to hate. If the game comes down to how the QB performs, we've got it in the bag.
Not so fast. Tomorrow, Part II: The Bad News.