ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Many of the factors for Sunday's AFC Championship game between the Broncos and the Patriots are much different than they were for the Week 12 matchup – none more obvious than the location.
The Broncos' overtime loss to New England in the regular season came at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday the Patriots have to come to Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We like playing at home because our fans have been outstanding all season," quarterback Peyton Manning said Thursday. "I think anybody prefers to play at home and with their home fans. But this has been an excellent team—at home and on the road—that we're playing. We need to do our job on the football field from an executing standpoint and count on that. At the same time we know our fans will be loud and excited. We're certainly glad to be playing here."
Last Sunday, Sports Authority Field at Mile High was raucously loud when the Chargers had the ball and nearly silent when the Broncos had the ball. It's conceivable that those varying volume levels were a factor in several miscues by the Chargers.
In the first quarter, with the fans screaming, quarterback Philip Rivers couldn't get a snap off in time and had to take a delay of game penalty. On the other side of the ball, it was so quiet that the Chargers could hear Manning's 'Omaha' call – and jumped into the neutral zone five times.
"That is the good thing—is they understand when to be noisy and when to be quiet," Head Coach John Fox said. "They've done a terrific job all season and really since I've been here."
But the noise isn't the only advantage have playing at home. Sports Authority Field sits at the highest elevation of any stadium in the NFL and the altitude can be difficult to adjust to.
"Honestly, the altitude does play a difference," defensive end Shaun Phillips said. "But, after you have played a couple quarters and blown your lungs out a little bit, you're usually good after that. You have to get through that first initial surge. So, hopefully we can have a lead on a couple of teams before that surge comes."
Of course, the fans and the altitude can only do so much and the game will be decided by execution on the field – a fact that the Broncos are well aware of.
"It's definitely a plus," running back Knowshon Moreno said of playing at home. "But we've still got to play the game no matter where it is. It's definitely a plus to be able to stay home and play here and have the altitude a little bit and see how they handle that, but at the same time it's still the game."