2015 was something of an up and down season for the Broncos. Just 2 years ago Peyton Manning was burning defenses to the ground and winning another MVP trophy. This year his play has been closer to Ryan Leaf than it ever has been. While his time off seems to have fixed a few of his issues it’s been far from the time machine Denver fans were hoping for. That’s not to say the offense has been toothless, under Brock Osweiler the running game got rolling and the defense has been terrifying all season. While they beat the Patriots in a cold and wild game in week 12 and have home field advantage on Sunday the odds-makers have Denver as an underdog in this game, mostly due to the inconsistency of their offense. So, how do they beat the behemoths of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?
Ruin Their Timing
Brady threw 42 passes against Kansas City last week, most of them short timing patterns. That’s nothing new for the Patriots and has been their best way to success recently. Few teams have the players to match-up across the field with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski and disrupt them enough off the line. The Broncos do. Their trio of Chris Harris Jr, Bradley Roby and Aqib Talib are perhaps as talented as any in the NFL and while they’re not 100% healthy they should all be on the field Sunday, giving Wade Phillips the pieces he needs to combat the Patriots quick release passing game.
Run Hard, Run Often
There’s no denying that the Broncos offense will need to be ground based. Peyton’s body can no longer make the throws his mind sees consistently enough so CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are going to have to shoulder a large burden on Sunday. Their task has been eased with news that Jerod Mayo won’t be playing due to a shoulder injury but there is still the formidable pair of Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. The Broncos ground game has become far better since Evan Mathis got healthy and they’ve been able to come under center more regularly, but the last time these 2 met Collins missed the whole game and Hightower almost half of it, and the Patriots rookie DT Malcolm Brown has been getting better every week this year. It will be a hard thing to move all those bodies when the Patriots know what’s coming but the Anderson is a good, patient runner who is perfectly complemented by Ronnie Hillman’s speed.
Don’t Drop The Ball
Sounds easy right? Tell that to the Broncos receivers who put 5 easy catches on the floor last week. But this doesn’t just refer to them, it goes for everyone on the team. The Broncos offense is unlikely to survive even 2 turnovers and the defense will need to hang on to any errant throw from Tom Brady if they are to overcome the big bad Patriots.
Match-Up To Watch
DeMarcus Ware & Von Miller Vs. Sebastian Vollmer & Marcus Cannon
Ware and Miller make life in the pocket nervy for most quarterbacks, and the Patriots have had many, many injuries along the offensive line this season. However on Sunday their #2 & #3 offensive tackles are healthy for this game and will prove a test for the Broncos pass rushers. Ware isn’t 100%, and isn’t close to as deadly as he used to be, but Miller is still a nightmare for blockers to handle. If they can get fast and consistent pressure on Tom Brady then the whole Patriots game plan will turn to dust.
Time to come clean… I’m a Patriots fan, and in our “Best Bets” column I picked Denver +3.5 (Denver have to lose by 3 or less, or win). I’m also a huge pessimist when it comes to Patriots play-off games thanks to David Tyree, Ray Rice and Peyton Manning. Hell, when it comes to Manning he could be quite literally out their on one leg I would still fear the guy. Denver have all the tools on defense to keep the Patriots quiet. One blow to Rob Gronkowski’s knee and the whole match could change. The issue is that Denver’s offense requires mistakes from the opposition to break big plays. They need a lot of luck to hit 30 points – Something they’ve only done once without overtime. They’ve scored 20 or fewer a massive SEVEN times this season which shows that for them to book a trip to Santa Clara this will need to be a low scoring, scrappy affair. The pessimist in me believes it will be a 17-15 Broncos win but the cold, logic part thinks the Pats take this fairly comfortably. I guess I’ll settle in the middle… Denver Broncos 24 – 27 New England Patriots
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