It will be a playoff-like atmosphere for the 8-5 Denver Broncos. They host a very worthy 10-3 New England Patriots team that is just as hot as they are. The Broncos are going for their 7th straight win while the Patriots will be going for 6th straight. The last time these two teams faced each other, Josh McDaniels joyfully fist-pumped across the field after he beat his mentor Bill Belichick by three points. This is an entirely new Broncos squad, but Belichick and Co. still have a bad taste left in their mouths after the 2009 match up. With a New England win, the team can clinch the AFC East. The Broncos own a 27-16 lead overall in the series. The Patriots have not won in Denver since 2003.
Broncos: The Broncos need to start getting off to a better start offensively. Nearly 45% of their point total comes in the fourth quarter (and overtime) these days. The Broncos still have the No. 1 ranked rushing game, but the passing game is ranked 31st. The Broncos will look to expose the Patriots poor pass defense at certain times, but they won’t completely sway away from their normal “control the clock and keep the defense off the field” style of play. The way to win this one is to keep Tom Brady and his offense off the field, so this Broncos offense has a lot riding on them. The Broncos will likely play a very conservative game when they are deep in their own territory. It will be run after run until they advance the ball to mid-field. Then you can expect Tim Tebow to take some chances down field and let his big receivers make a play on the ball.
Patriots: We’ve all read the stats this week. There’s no need to tell you this offense is potent. They are 3rd in point total, 2nd in passing, and 21st in rushing. Rob Gronkowski leads the league in touchdowns (15) at the tight end position. Wes Welker is leading the league in receiving yards. The thing about these two receivers is they each have unique characteristics that makes them deadly threats. Gronkowski is a huge tight end that has great hands, speed, and power to break tackles. It’s unusual to find a tight end who excels in all three areas. Welker is small, but he’s a fast receiver who knows how to immediately find the open spots on the field and sit in them. This all doesn’t work without a quarterback, and the Pats have arguably the best in the league. The offensive line is doing a great job of protecting Tom Brady. He’s only been sacked 22 times this season because of his line, but also because he’s a great decision maker and doesn’t hold on to the ball for very long.
Broncos: The Broncos goal for this game is to make Brady feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Even if the defense doesn’t sack him, they want to pressure him into bad throws. It helps having two very strong pass rushers coming around the edge, but the Patriots receivers run short quick routes, and if they can get their run game going, they use the play action and take some shots down field. The Broncos are ranked 21st against the rush and 16th against the pass. We have to expect that the Patriots are going to get their points, so it’s up to the defense to create turnovers. That way the Broncos offense can control the clock and keep the Pats offense off the field.
Patriots: The Patriots are 13th against the run and 32nd against the pass. Even though their defense isn’t as great as in years past, they create a lot of turnovers and they make stops in the red zone. They are 4th in interceptions with 18 on the season. This isn’t a team who relies on the pass rush like the Jets and Bears do, but they will likely use similar tactics to keep the Broncos in check. Andre Carter leads the team in sacks (10) while Kyle Arrington leads the team in interceptions (7).
Broncos: This is another game that will likely come down to special teams. Britton Colquitt’s leg is very important this game as the Broncos will want to make the Patriots offense work a long field.
Patriots: Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman handle kick return duties for the Pats. Edelman has one punt returned for a TD this year. Stephen Gostkowski is 22-of-26 on field goals with a long of 50 yards.
Broncos: John Fox is one coach who is actually capable of out-smarting Belichick. He’s been in the league long enough and seen it all. The thing about the Broncos coaching staff is that they wait to see what other defenses are doing against them before making major adjustments mid-way through the game. That’s why the Broncos have started slow and finished strong in recent weeks.
Patriots: Belichick is the best in the business. There’s a reason why his teams have won 10 or more games for the 9th straight season. Even though he’s not on the field, he’s the one to worry about. Can the Broncos send their blitz package over to his sideline?
Prediction: Broncos – 28 Patriots – 24.