The Denver Broncos travel east to take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. There are a lot of people have framed this game has the one that will decide home-field advantage in the playoffs. While that’s possible, I’d be careful going too far with that narrative.
It’s true the Patriots would take over the top spot with a win but the two teams would still be tied with two losses apiece, and the Patriots have some tough games in the second half of the season. It’s obviously a big game but there’s also a lot of football to be played after Sunday.
Here are the three keys for the Broncos to move to 7-1 and take full control of the AFC.
Running game: The weather forecast in Foxboro on Sunday is not good, it’s calling for 30-40 mile winds and temperatures in the low 40’s. Initially it sounds like that weather would benefit the Patriots and it might, Tom Brady is used to throwing in the wind and Peyton Manning struggled last season in similar conditions versus the Patriots. However that kind of weather also puts more emphasis on the running game, and that would favor the Broncos.
The Broncos have ran the football very well over the past three weeks and rank number one on defense versus the run. Ronnie Hillman has emerged as a real threat in the Broncos offense and could be the key for a Broncos victory on Sunday.
Touchdowns not field goals: As well as the Broncos defense is playing, the Patriots are going to move the ball and score points. Brady is playing at an unbelievable level and tight-end Rob Gronkowski is fully healthy. It’s possible the Broncos could play a great defensive game and still give up 24-28 points.
Because of that, the offense will need to continue their stellar play in the red zone. The Broncos are going to move the ball versus a Patriots defense that is missing two of their best players in the front seven, but they cannot settle for field goals.
Pass rush: We can debate all we want about how the Broncos should go about defending Gronkowski but it really comes down to getting pressure on Brady.
The Broncos defense has been good on all three levels but it starts with the front four, and that’s where it has to start on Sunday. If Brady gets time to throw, then it’s not going to matter what kind of coverage is going on in the secondary. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have been big all season but they will need to play their best game for the Broncos to beat the Patriots.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the Broncos can take advantage of that. As good as the secondary is for the Patriots with the additions of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, it won’t matter if Manning gets time to throw.
The game could very well be decided by the defensive front four of both teams and if that’s the case, then the Broncos should be in good shape.
As with all big games and as we say every week, things like turnovers are the X factor. The Patriots almost never lose at home and they feed off of their crowd. The Broncos cannot add to that by turning the ball over or making mistakes because as the Chicago Bears witnessed last week, it can turn into an avalanche of points for the Patriots.
The Broncos are the better team and all things being equal, they should win this game. The Patriots are at home and on a roll which evens things out.
The Broncos need to survive a wave of early energy and momentum that is sure to come from the Patriots and their fans. If they do that, then the Broncos will win a close game.
Prediction: Broncos-27 Patriots-24