Tom Brady (12) calls out pass coverage during the second half of the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. (Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE)

Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots: Game Preview

The Denver Broncos (2-2) take to the road to play the New England Patriots (2-2) in week five. The Broncos are in second place in the AFC West and coming off of a 37-6 win over the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots are tied for first place in the AFC East and they are coming in after a big 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills. The Broncos and Patriots have met 42 times in the regular season, and the Broncos hold a 25-17 advantage. The last time these two teams played was last January in the divisional round of the playoffs where the Patriots whopped the Broncos 45-10 at Gillette Stadium. Of course this is a brand new Broncos team with Peyton Manning. Manning has won five of the last seven meetings between he and Bill Belichick. Game time is set for 2:25 p.m. MST on CBS.

Offense

Broncos: Life for the Broncos offense really looks up after last week’s 21-point third quarter against the Raiders. While we’d all like to see Manning air it out and walk away with another 300+ yard performance, keeping the ball on the ground and keeping control of the clock seems to be the Broncos best defense against Tom Brady and his receivers. Willis McGahee once ran for 138 yards on 30 carries against the Patriots when he was with Buffalo. While McGahee doesn’t need as many carries, the same level of production is needed to chew clock. The Patriots are giving up 281.5 passing yards per game, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Their defense is ranked 4th in interceptions (6), and 3rd in forced fumbles (5). The Broncos need to match every score by the Patriots and then some. Keep an eye on new center Dan Koppen as he replaces J.D. Walton who was placed on IR. Koppen snapped for Brady for nine seasons.

Patriots: What can we say about the Patriots offense except that they’re the best. They’re first in points per game (33.5) and net yards per game (438.3). Brady has 7 touchdowns and just one interception and his main targets have been Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd who have 25 receptions a piece. Of course they rely heavily on their tight ends too. Aaron Hernandez had to miss seven practices due to an ankle injury, but he returned on Thursday. Rob Gronkowski is set to play even through his missed Wedneday’s practice due to a nagging hip injury. Gronkowski leads the team in receiving touchdowns with 3 on the year. The Patriots have a new element in their run attack which is averaging 144.0 yards per game (8th in the league). The Pats have only had one top-10 rusher while Brady has played and that was Cored Dillon in ’04. The team has Stevan Ridely who is averaging 84.8 yards per game which is 9th best in the league. The team is also No. 2 in the league in explosive runs. Any way you spin it, the Patriots can score from any angle in a hurry and their 31-point fourth quarter performance in week four proves it.

Defense

Broncos: The Patriots create all kinds of match up nightmares. Perhaps the biggest one though is Gronkowski. Being physical with Gronk right off the line will help and it will take a linebacker and a safety to slow the fast 265-pound tight end. Denver’s defense excels at stopping the rush and at pass rushing so the number of weapons that the Patriots have at receiver are head scratching. If the Broncos’ pass rush can excel, it will force Gronk to block more. Champ Bailey will match up with Lloyd and Tracy Porter or Chris Harris will handle Wes Welker. Sitting back in a zone coverage will eat this defense alive. That’s where Brady works his magic. The Patriots will make their plays. It’s all about Denver’s defense containing the yards after the play.

Patriots: The Patriots give up a whopping number of yards per game (366.8), so as long as the Broncos can play smart football, they’ll get their points. The Pats are giving up just 85.3 yards per game on the ground which is slightly better than Denver’ run defense. Jerod Mayo is leading the team in tackles with 39, Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson have 2 interceptions a piece on the season, and Chandler Jones leads the team in sacks with 3 on the year. The Patriots defense can be worked (the Ravens put up 31 points and the Bills put up 28 points). It’s more about the Broncos’ defense working the Patriots’ offense.

Special Teams

Broncos: Any big special teams play in this game will go a long ways. Whether it’s a punt pinned back at the 4-yard line, a 30+ yard punt return, or a long field goal, special teams means a lot in these kinds of games. David Bruton got the taste of a deflected punt last week. You know he’s sniffing for more.

Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski missed back-to-back field goals from 49 yards and 42 yards out against the Bills last week. He also missed a 42-yard attempt that would have won the game for the Pats in week two against the Arizona Cardinals. Put the game on the line, and this kicker could be a head case.

Coaching

Broncos: Don’t expect any fake field-goals or trick plays from John Fox this week. Some coaches have the sleight of hand, others don’t. This game will be in Manning’s hands if all goes according to Fox’s plan.

Patriots: Bill Belichick had Manning’s number early in his career, but the quarterback has gotten the best of the Belichick lately. The hooded-one always puts together great game plans though. It will be all about if his defense can execute.

Prediction: Patriots – 31 Broncos- 28 in overtime (Here’s hoping I’m wrong!)

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