AFC Playoffs Q&A: A super matchup

Regardless of how he got the job, Collins provided plenty of evidence to explain why New England used a second-round pick on him in last year's draft. He's blossomed in the second half of this season and his versatility -- he played defensive back, linebacker and defensive end at Southern Mississippi -- makes him an ideal defender in Belichick's system. His emergence also takes ample pressure off a unit that lost its two best players (nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo) to season-ending injuries. Collins is exactly the kind of three-down player New England needs against the Broncos, particularly if he can handle Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas.

5. What happens to Denver's secondary if Chris Harris isn't healthy? The Broncos probably don't want to think about that possibility right now. Harris has been the team's best cornerback all season and his absence was huge late in Denver's win over San Diego. The Broncos were up 17-0 when Harris left the contest with an unspecified injury to his ankle and knee late in the third quarter.

After that point, San Diego scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen inflicting the most damage. Rivers threw for 173 of his 217 yards in that period. Allen had five receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns after posting one catch through the first three quarters. You can bet the Patriots will pay close attention to those numbers. The Broncos' secondary already had been plagued by Bailey's lingering foot problems and a penchant for giving up big plays. If Harris can't play -- or is limited -- the Broncos will struggle to keep Brady from carving them up as he did in the second half of that first meeting.

6. How will the Patriots' championship game experience matter in this contest? It has some value. New England may be traveling to Denver, but the Patriots are also appearing in their third consecutive AFC Championship Game. Denver hasn't been this deep into the playoffs since the 2005 season and Bailey is the only current Broncos player who was a part of that bunch.

Granted, it helps to have Manning, Wes Welker and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, all of whom had Super Bowl experience before they arrived in Denver. But the bulk of the Broncos' roster has no idea what the pressure feels like once you reach this level. There's a reason why many veterans believe it's harder to get to the Super Bowl than it is to win it. Even with home-field advantage, it wouldn't be surprising to see Denver start this game tight. The Broncos have been picked to be in this position all season. The pressure, from this vantage point, is all on them.

7. Can Denver's pass rush continue to dominate? The most surprising revelation in Sunday's game was that Denver effectively pressured Rivers despite not having Miller on the field. The Broncos had two sacks on San Diego's first possession of the game and ended the contest with four total.

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