Patriots could run past Broncos

The QBs are great, but it's the running game that could decide AFC title

Updated: January 13, 2014, 2:24 PM ET
By Matt Williamson | ESPN Insider

BlountDavid Butler II/USA TODAY SportsLeGarrette Blount rushed for 6.9 yards per carry against the Colts.

In a quarterback-driven league, the winners of all four of this past weekend's divisional-round matchups ran the ball more effectively than their opponents. Is that a coincidence? I don't think so. But perhaps most surprising was the fact that the Denver Broncos shut down the San Diego Chargers' run game.

Can the Broncos' rush defense keep that up at home next week in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots? I have serious doubts. Here are three key reasons.

1. The Chargers' running game was not at full strength.

The Chargers' best runner, Ryan Mathews, was far from 100 percent healthy for Sunday's game and didn't even play in the second half. Mathews played a pivotal role in the Chargers' late-season surge and led the NFL in rushing after Week 11. Their offense simply isn't the same without him, as he has become a true workhorse, and few backs in the league are as talented.