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    Next up for Broncos QB Peyton Manning in his last rodeo: Tom Brady
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Hate is a terrible thing to waste on the New England Patriots.

"I hate everything about them," Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe said Friday, doubling down on the dislike he has expressed for the Patriots since this showdown for a trip to the Super Bowl was set. "They are always in my way. They are always in my way to get what I want, so it is naturally going to create hate."

Everybody hates the Patriots.

And everybody in the NFL, from commissioner Roger Goodell to referee Ed Hochuli, is out to get the Patriots.

Just ask anybody in New England, where winning championships is such a burden it makes coach Bill Belichick a sourpuss.

Even Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, known for getting too uptight in the playoffs, had a little fun at Belichick's expense after a playoff victory against Pittsburgh, by stealing one of the New England coach's old lines and joking that the Broncos were moving "on to New England."

Belichick was asked about Manning's quote theft.

"I haven't really given it any thought," Belichick harrumphed. "Is that going to be the story this week?"

No, Mr. Grumpypants.

Can somebody give Belichick a hug? Please.

Here's the real story of AFC championship week:

The Broncos are having fun. "When we're loud, we're pretty good," said Denver coach Gary Kubiak, who loves his team's boisterous personality.


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The Patriots, meanwhile, continue their long joyless slog to repeat as NFL champs. Since the wicked injustice of Deflategate, it sometimes seems as if the team and its fan base are caught under the same bitter cloud, which colors everything with the same shade of gray that covers New England all winter long.

Yes, nine out of 10 engineers worthy of their pocket protectors agree: As a scandal, Deflategate was a joke. It did not taint the Patriots' championship. When the silly suspension of Brady was overturned, justice was served.

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The Pats won. Goodell lost. So why can't New England let it go?

When Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall engaged in a little, harmless gamesmanship by suggesting New England tight end Rob Gronkowski gets so open on routes because he gets away with pass interference, the response of Pats Nation was lightning quick and laughably predictable.

"I definitely wasn't aware that all the Patriots fans would be in my Twitter mentions and calling me all kind of explicit names," Marshall said.

The paranoia of conspiracy theorists runs deep in that dirty water of the Charles River. Denver is 4-0 in home games that have been refereed by Hochuli since 1999. A reporter for the highfalutin National Public Radio outlet in Boston extended a interview with me Friday for the specific purpose of asking if I could explain why the Broncos seem unbeatable and the Pats lose more often when Hochuli is on the field, as he will be during the AFC championship game.

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My best answer: I dunno. Everybody hates the Patriots?

The Patriots, as Wolfe pointed out, have the full respect of Denver. This is the fifth consecutive year that New England has made the final four of the Super Bowl tournament.

But, unlike last season, when some Broncos admitted they weren't too keen about making the trek to New England before getting bumped off in the playoffs by Indianapolis, Denver relishes the idea of playing the Patriots.

On a team now defined by its defense rather than Manning, the Broncos now get up and dance with linebacker Von Miller and laugh louder than polite company might like. That goes a long way in explaining the playful jabs the Broncos have taken at New England. For example: If you ask Denver defensive linemen Antonio Smith or Malik Jackson, Tom Brady is a crybaby.

Hey, maybe Brady is just representing for his fan base.

The Patriots are a better team than Denver. The Broncos, however, seem to be having more fun.

For a Manning-led squad that often seemed to labor under the weight of its championship-or-bust burden in recent seasons, maybe it's the laughter I heard as players walked off the field at practice that could make the difference, if the AFC championship game is tight and in doubt late in the fourth quarter.

Hate is a terrible thing to waste on New England.

If you bump into Coach Hoodie, Gronk or any of the angry, bitter fans from New England in Colorado this weekend, give 'em a hug.

It looks as if they all could use one.

Mark Kiszla: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @markkiszla

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.