Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots: A History Lesson

Pats 7, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) makes a pass while being pressured by Denver Broncos nose tackle Mitch Unrein (96) during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

If you think Broncos-Patriots doesn’t qualify for a legitimate NFL rivalry, then you are sorely mistaken.

And no, these two franchises aren’t rivals because their quarterbacks — two of the game’s all-time greats — have a series of epic games versus one another.

Also, no, this has nothing to do with Wes Welker‘s departure from New England after he had a rift with coach Bill Belichick.

Rather, the Broncos-Patriots saga traces long before the days of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, back to the inception of each franchise in 1960, when they played each other in their respective inaugural game in the American Football League.

Fast forward 53 seasons to Sunday’s collision-course meeting at Gillette Stadium, in what could very well be a preview of the AFC Championship Game, and one can see this yet another pivotal game between two proud AFC teams that boast a total of 12 Super Bowl appearances and five league championships.

Before we look ahead at what could be though— and recent playoff history tells us we definitely shouldn’t, we must look to the past to help guide us through what has undisputedly become one of modern football’s greatest match-ups.

To really get an appreciation for this rivalry, and its longstanding history in the league over a 50-plus year period, one should know Sunday’s contest between the Broncos and Pats is the 47th meeting between the two clubs, with Denver leading the regular season 25-18 and the Pats holding a 2-1 advantage in the playoffs, most recently dismissing the Tim Tebow-led Broncos 45-10 in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs in 2012.

Moreover, the Pats have played more games against Denver than any other team that has never been in New England’s division.

Denver hasn’t been able to beat Tom Brady & Co. since 2009, when former Bronco head coach Josh McDaniels led his team to an inspired 20-17 upset in overtime against his former club, which re-hired him as offensive coordinator before the aforementioned playoff rout in 2012.

However, the Broncos-Patriots rivalry goes way beyond one ineffective coach turning coats a few times.

Despite the three-game losing streak against New England, the Broncos are the only franchise in the league with a winning record vs. Tom Brady – a real point of pride for any Bronco player since Brady started playing in 2000.

In the regular season, Brady is a sub-par 3-5 against the boys from the Mile High City, while splitting a pair of playoff contests against Denver — the 35-point drubbing in 2012 and a 27-13 loss in the 2006 Divisional Round, when he had one of his two picks returned 99 yards by Champ Bailey that snapped the quarterback’s perfect 10-0 postseason record.

Belichick hasn’t fared much better against the Broncos as a head coach, posting a 6-10 record that just recently started to improve.

The key Sunday will be attack Brady, who is a notoriously  different player under pressure and hasn’t been harassed enough to make any mistakes in recent match-ups against the Orange Crush.

If the Broncos are going to successfully avenge last season’s 31-21 loss, then they will need to get to a quarterback who finished below Ryan Tannehill, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Hasslebeck and Kevin Kolb last season when passing under pressure.

Anyone with a TV saw this difference last night as Brady absolutely shredded Carolina’s top-ranked defense when he wasn’t rushed or hurried, but looked significantly worse when pressure was applied.

That leads us to Sunday, which will serve as a crossroads of sorts for each franchise.

The Patriots are reeling after a controversial Monday night loss and are home underdogs for the first time in almost a decade. Back to back losses wouldn’t necessarily threaten their  lead in the AFC East, but it would send them spiraling downward in the AFC playoff picture to compete for playoff seeding with the Colts and the Bengals in December.

Meanwhile, a loss would be equally devastating for the Broncos, who enter the game with a lot of momentum after dispatching Kansas City 27-17 on Sunday night, but don’t have too much margin for error.

The upside is that a win would put them in the driver’s seat toward home field advantage in the AFC playoffs for the second year in a row.

Certainly, a lot is at stake here in 2013, but it’s worth remembering Sunday that this is more than just a contest that dictates AFC supremacy going forward — it’s a match-up that is amongst the best rivalries football has to offer.

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Topics: Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

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  • anon76returns

    Thirteen Super Bowl appearances between them. Six for the Broncos (XII, XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXXII, XXXIII), and 7 for the Pats (XX, XXXI, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI).

  • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

    Denver may be playing against a mostly backup filled defense. Run stoppers, NT Wilfork, DT Kelly, and LB Mayo are out replaced by rookies…..they are 31st against the run.
    Their starting CBs, Talib and Dennard will probably be watching from the sidelines with injuries, replaced by backups.
    Manning should have little trouble moving the ball and scoring against a less than stellar defense….should be a high scoring game and a shootout between Brady & Manning.

    • anon76returns

      I’d be surprised to see most of the non-IR Pats sitting. I think Talib will almost certainly play.

      That being said, I don’t see the Broncos defense as the type to give up a shoot out anymore. Since Miller returned the Denver D has faced legitimate passing games in Washington (who they spotted a 2 TD lead), San Diego, and Indy, with pretty good results. Denver’s last 4 opponents are completing less than 54% of their passes, with a 5.7 yards/att average and 191 yds/game. Furthermore, about half of their opponents points are coming on short fields due to TOs or special teams errors. Without a short field or defensive/return scores, teams are averaging 12.5 points against the Broncos over their last 4 games. By comparison, Carolina’s opponents are averaging 10.8 and both Seattle and KC’s opponents are averaging 12 points per game over the season under those conditions. Statistically, Denver’s D with Miller looks as good as any of the elite D’s in the NFL.

      • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

        Don’t buy it. Washington is a poor example, they are in shambles, and the Colts put up 39 points and a win. Pats will put up more than 30 points against the Broncos…..going to be a shootout.

        • anon76returns

          The Colts put up 39 with 5 drives starting in Denver territory (leading to 24 points) and a safety. That means on the 13 drives where they had to start in their own territory, they only scored 13 points, just about the season average for the Chiefs or Seahawks in the same situations. New England might get a lot of turnovers/good special team play on Sunday night and recreate that result. But if they do so, it wouldn’t be the fault of the Denver D, which has been really stout the last 4 games.

          And say what you will about the passing offense of Washington (or KC, or SD, or whomever), but they were held well below their averages in nearly every passing category when they played the Broncos, because the Denver D is pretty good, certainly they’re playing better than their full season stats would suggest.

          It shouldn’t be all that controversial of a thing to say- look how their defense performed last year with basically the same personnel. They were a top 5 unit in total yards (2nd), passing yards (3rd), rushing yards (3rd) and points allowed (4th), and that’s basically how they are playing now. On the season they’re 4th in rushing yards allowed, and since Von came back they’ve been 3rd in passing yards allowed.

          • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

            ….guess we will see Sunday……over 60 points combined in this confrontation.