By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots being the number one seed in the AFC had a bye last week, and enter the Divisional Round Tonight to face the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. Here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on WBZ Channel 4 at 8:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
The Broncos are coming off a 29-23 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home last weekend. They won the game on the first play from scrimmage with an 80 yard reception from Damaryius Thomas who took it all the way for a touchdown. There is no question that the Broncos will be entering Gillette Stadium with much confidence after their winning performance against the Steelers.
On offense, this unit is built around quarterback Tim Tebow who can be a dual threat as he can throw and run the ball. He does have a deep threat in Thomas who definitely has the ability to stretch the field. The running game of the Broncos is also very good led by Willis McGahee who had 1199 yards this season.
On defense, this unit has two players that can get after Tom Brady with defensive end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Vonn Miller. They also have a cornerback that is still one of the best in the game in Champ Bailey. This unit does have some players that could give Brady some trouble.
I have to admit that the Broncos played well last week, and have improved tremendously over the course of the season. However, I think they are a few players and a season away from being able to win on the road in the playoffs. I think they will be tough in the beginning, but as the game progresses, I expect the Patriots to pull away.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots offensive line needs to do an exceptional job at protecting Tom Brady. In the last 3 playoff games including a Super Bowl, the line did not do a good enough job at protecting Brady. This is the most important key for the Patriots, and could determine how far they go in the playoffs.
If Brady has the proper time to find his receivers, it will be a long day for any defense. If the Broncos cannot pressure the Patriots quarterback, I don’t think they can win this game.
2. The tight ends need to exploit the middle of the field on offense. In the first match-up, the Broncos did a nice job in limiting the effectiveness of Rob Gronkowski. However, Aaron Hernandez had a huge game against the Denver defense. The Broncos will have a very hard time covering both as one tight end should have a big game.
3. The Patriots need to use the “hurry up” offense early in this game. It doesn’t have to be on the opening drive, but it should be at a time in the first half to establish a faster tempo to the game. The Patriots are tough to beat when they are clicking in the hurry up.
Brady can get in a zone where it almost looks like it is pitch and catch. If this offense can get up on the Broncos using that style, it could be a long day for the Denver.
4. The Patriots defense needs to contain Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos in their victory over the Steelers had many big plays in the passing game. Thomas is their deep threat, and a player the Patriots need to keep in check on Saturday Night.
If they can play a zone defense, and make sure Thomas cannot beat them deep, it should force Tebow to try to look for his intermediate patterns. I don’t feel that Tebow can hit those routes consistently right now in his development.
By taking away Thomas and playing zone, it’s going to force Tebow to methodically drive down the field. I think he will struggle if he is forced into that situation.
5. The Red-zone defense needs to make Denver kick field goals instead of touchdowns. If Denver does move the ball between the twenties, it is imperative to force the Broncos to kick field goals. If the Patriots succeed in this task within the red-zone, it could be a huge help in a potential victory.
I am actually pretty confident that the Patriots will win this playoff game. I think they will force the Broncos to settle for 3 points in many drives, and will not be able to keep up with the Patriots offense. I am predicting a 35-15 Patriots victory over the Broncos.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.