By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots return home to face the Denver Broncos in week twelve.
The Patriots (7-3) are coming off a Monday Night Football loss to the Carolina Panthers. On the other side, the Broncos (9-1) look to extend their win streak to four games after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs last week.
These two teams last met on Oct. 7, 2012 when the Patriots defeated the Broncos 31-21. Tom Brady holds a 9-4 record over Peyton Manning and this will be the fourteenth meeting between the two quarterbacks.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Broncos win:
Start Fast: The Broncos are scoring 39.8 points-per-game, 11 points more than any other team in the NFL. One thing I have taken away from Denver this season, they force their opponents to get into shoot outs and play the way the Broncos want. If the Broncos start fast, not only will they set the tempo, but it will put pressure on the Patriots to score and shy away from the run game.
Get the Ball Downfield: Demaryius Thomas is one of the league’s better receivers. He’s fast, can get yards after the catch and makes some incredible plays. With all the injuries to New England’s defensive backs, the unit is susceptible to downfield passes. If the Broncos can protect Manning and he can get the ball to Thomas or other receivers downfield, they’ll put the Patriots under pressure to score.
Don’t Let Gronk Beat You: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is the league’s best tight end when healthy. He is a physical specimen, can block and runs much better than many opposing players expect. In four games this season, Gronkowski has 24 catches, 343 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a tough matchup for any defense, but even Denver’s quick linebackers won’t be able to hang with Gronk one-on-one. If the Broncos aren’t careful, you’ll see him running down the seam for a score Sunday night.
How The Patriots Win:
Pressure Peyton: Manning likes to get the ball out of his hands as quick as possible, making it extremely hard to bring him down. Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t able to get him with their vaunted pass rush and throughout the season, Manning has only been sacked 12 times.
Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots front seven must swarm to Manning and at the very least make him uncomfortable in the pocket. New England needs to hit no. 18 as often as possible, legally of course. If they can do that successfully, expect him to make a few poor decisions.
Get Off The Field: The Patriots third down defense has gotten progressively worse the past several weeks. In fact, they are now 29th in the NFL in third down defense, allowing 43 percent conversions. Obviously injuries have been a big factor in the unit’s overall decline, but the team has to find a way to get off the field against a very good Broncos offense. When it is all said and done, third down may tell the story of the game.
Maximize Opportunities: As great as Denver has been offensively, they aren’t immune to turning over the football. Denver has a negative two turnover differential, throwing six interceptions and fumbling 13 times through 10 games this season. On the flip side, the Patriots are the second best team in the AFC with a plus seven turnover margin and before last week, had forced a turnover in 36 straight contests. If New England can maximize their opportunities off turnovers and finish drives with seven points, they will have a great chance of getting the upset at home.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Patriots 27.
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