CK’s Patriots@Broncos:  A Highly Biased Game Preview

CK’s Patriots@Broncos:  A Highly Biased Game Preview
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A great day of Sunday football closes out with the New England Patriots going to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Broncos in this pivotal Week 10 matchup.  Including the playoffs, this will be the 53rd meeting between these two franchises with the Broncos holding a 30-22 all-time series lead.  In the last 10 matchups, the Patriots are 6-4 against the Broncos but only 1-2 in the playoffs during that time.
Entering this game, these two teams have been going in opposite directions.  For Denver, after a 3-1 start, they have lost four games in a row including division losses to the Chargers and Kansas City.  Coming off a bye week, the Patriots got off to an unexpected 2-2 start but have won 4 games in a row to reclaim their rightful spot in 1st place in the AFC East.
Playoff implications are in line 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:  While Brock Osweiler may have beat the Patriots in their 2015 matchup, a lot has changed, and not for the better, for the Broncos while New England’s Tom Brady seems to be aging like fine wine.
Running Backs – Push:  While the Patriots have a much deeper and versatile group of running backs, Denver’s squad has put up virtually identical numbers so far this season.
Wide Receivers – Push:  The Broncos have a very good and deep receiving corps led by Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  However, their problems at quarterback will certainly affect their productivity.
Tight Ends – Patriots:  While former Patriot AJ Derby leads the Denver tight ends with 18 catches for 222 yards, the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski is on pace for another 1,000-yard season.
Offensive Line – Push:  Both Denver and New England have had below average offensive line play so far this season.  While the Patriots, surprisingly, have protected their pass better than their Broncos counterparts, it is not enough difference to skew the balance one way or the other.
Defensive Front Seven – Broncos:  Both teams’ defensive fronts are posting similar sack totals but the Denver run defense, which is ranked in the top 5, is doing much better in that area than the Patriots.
Secondary – Broncos:  In recent weeks the Patriots’ secondary play has improved from the disastrous start they had at the beginning of the season.  However, they are still rank 31st in the NFL in yards allowed and are 1 of 5 teams allowing a 100+ passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.  The Broncos, on the other hand, are 3rd in the league in yards allowed.  The possibility of Stephon Gilmore returning this week for the Patriots should not get anyone excited.
Special Teams – Patriots:  Though both teams are posting similar numbers in the return game, Stephen Gostkowski has been much more accurate than the Broncos’ Brandon McManus who is under 73% on his field goal attempts this season.
Coaching – Patriots:  After coaching the Miami Dolphins defense to a paltry 29th place ranking in 2016, the Broncos, for whatever inexplicable reason decided to hire Johnson to be their head coach.  While Johnson has been able to coach real defensive talent this year versus the overpaid has-beens he was saddled with in Miami, clearly, Offensive football has not been his strong suit up to this point in the season.

If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:


Keys to Victory:
1) Offensive Line Play:  This may be the biggest key for New England.  Tom Brady has already been sacked 21 times this year and the Patriots need to find ways to keep him upright versus the Broncos’ front seven who, historically, have done very well against New England when playing in Denver.
2) Finding Receiver Help:  With the unknown status of Chris Hogan, the Patriots must utilize other pass catchers, especially from the running backs, to help with quick passes to help slow down the Denver pass rush.
3) Smart Defensive Play:  The Patriots defense has been plagued with horrible play and decimated by injury this year.  While Denver’s Brock Osweiler had a terrible game against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, New England’s defense needs to step up and find some playmakers to prevent Osweiler from looking like the second coming of Peyton Manning.
Playing the Broncos in Denver has been Tom Brady’s house of horrors.  That Patriots have been 5-2 against the Broncos in Foxboro but only 3-7 when playing in Denver. Certainly, the Broncos will try to duplicate what was done against the Patriots in the past by overwhelming New England’s offensive line.  The Patriots need to find new ways to create quick passing mismatches with James White and Rex Burkhead to help slow down Von Miller and company who, undoubtedly, will be unleashed on Sunday Night.
Expect a low scoring game coming down to the last possession to decide the winner.
The Knuckles Prediction:  Patriots 19 – Broncos 17

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