On Sunday, the last two AFC representatives in the Super Bowl square off in a critical AFC matchup. Some of the luster has worn away from this game with Peyton Manning sidelined with a foot injury but the stakes could not be any higher for both teams.
For the Patriots, injuries have decimated the once unstoppable offense while the Broncos are trying to keep pace in the race to secure one of the two top playoff seeds in the AFC. In the last 4 meetings, the Patriots have won 3 of those matchups with the lone loss being in the AFC Championship following the 2013 season. So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: In his first NFL start, Brock Osweiler had an excellent debut against the Bears which may fuel a quarterback controversy before the season is out. New England, however, has the advantage in this matchup with Tom Brady having an MVP type season.
Running Backs – Push: While the Patriots are still trying to find the right combination of running backs since the loss of Dion Lewis, the Broncos are relatively healthy and are coming off a good running performance. However for the season, both teams’ rushing attacks have been practically identical hovering near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per game.
Wide Receivers – Broncos: The Broncos have a very good and deep receiving corps led by Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders while the Patriots receivers have been decimated by injury.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Coming off a game where he had a season low in yards, Rob Gronkowski may be the most motivated (and important) weapon in New England’s arsenal.
Offensive Line – Push: Both Denver and New England have had below average offensive line play that have struggled in run blocking and have each allowed 20+ sacks already this year.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: In what usually is a quarterback driven match up, the Broncos and Patriots enter this game with two of the better front seven units that are both stout against the run and in the tops of the league at quarterback sacks.
Secondary – Broncos: Both defensive backfields have very good talent across the board that have been creating turnovers. However the Broncos’ defensive back field has yielded far less pass yards per game than their Patriots counterparts.
Special Teams – Push: With the loss of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the advantage that the Patriots had in this area has been evened out with Denver.
Coaching – Patriots: Gary Kubiak has a 1-4 lifetime record against Bill Belichick. The lone victory for Kubiak was in Week 17 of the 2009 season when the Patriots had already won their division and secured a playoff spot. Though the previous games have little to no impact on Sunday’s game, Belichick is familiar with what Gary Kubiak likes to do and has proven that he can scheme against it.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
QUARTERBACK 2 0
RUNNING BACK 1 1
WIDE RECIEVERS 0 2
TIGHT ENDS 2 0
OFFENSIVE LINE 1 1
DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN 1 1
SECONDARY 0 2
SPECIAL TEAMS 1 1
COACHING 2 0
TOTAL 10 8
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Offensive Line Play: In last week’s game, the Buffalo Bills were able to exploit the Patriots offensive line which resulted in disruption of New England’s quick passing game. Certainly the Broncos will try a similar approach so the Patriots need to find their best line combination to hold up against Denver’s outside pass rushers.
2) Finding Receiver Help: As of Thanksgiving, the Patriots have only three healthy receivers on their roster which includes Special Teams Ace Matthew Slater. If the Patriots are going to be successful against Denver’s defense, they are going to have to get production from the other tight ends, running backs, and whichever wide receivers they have available.
3) Smart Defensive Back Play: The Patriots have been using Patrick Chung as their slot corner during substitutions. Though Chung’s overall play has improved since his return to the Patriots last season, he has been a liability in pass coverage. The Patriots need to make sure that they can provide some help to Chung, especially in critical 3rd down situations.
The Patriots enter this week’s game having to correct protection issues that were exposed and try to reshuffle a receiving corps that keeps losing key players. Certainly the Broncos will try to duplicate what was done against the Patriots last week and do have much better defensive talent to execute that plan. The Patriots need to find new ways to create passing mismatches with the limited amount of options that they have. Additionally, the offensive line needs to put last week’s game behind them and focus on Denver’s outside speed rushers who, undoubtedly, will be unleashed on Sunday. Expect a low scoring game coming down to a late game possession.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 20 – Broncos 17