Two Matchups To Watch: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots

With the Patriots coming to the Mile High City, Adam Uribes reveals two key matchups to watch.

Still in the playoff picture, the Denver Broncos face an uphill battle to make it in to the postseason. When you look at Denver's remaining schedule, it's a no-brainer.

With the AFC East-leading New England Patriots looming ahead, the Broncos did themselves no favors by dropping a heart-breaking 13-10 nail-biter to the Tennessee Titans Going back to the AFL days, the Patriots and Broncos are old acquaintances. Denver has had the upper hand as of late, winning the last three matchups in Denver that also included a 20-18 triumph in the AFC Title game last year.

In what will undoubtedly be a subplot in the matchup, the Mile High Boys have been a thorn in the side of Tom Brady. Going only 6-9 lifetime versus the Broncos, Brady's record is further highlighted by a 2-6 mark in Denver and 0-2 in the playoffs.

Taking a further look at the tale of the tape, let's shine a light on the two biggest matchups this week that will be contributing factors to a Denver win or loss.

James White vs the Broncos Safeties

It has been a bad couple of weeks for the health of the Broncos linebacker corps. With starting ‘backers Brandon Marshall — dealing with a hamstring ailment — and Todd Davis going down last week with an oblique injury, the group is depleted heading into this contest.

It’s no secret that Denver has struggled to cover running backs in the passing game.  Look no farther than Atlanta's Tevin Coleman tearing up the No Fly Zone in a November win. When a team has a running back that can serve as an extra receiver in the passing game, it has been effective versus Denver. Enter running back James White of New England. White is the second leading receiver on the Patriots with 50 catches. Not just a check-down safety valve, White also has chipped in with four touchdown grabs and has long gain of 61 yards.

White has also showed a tremendous versatility in the New England aerial attack, lining up anywhere from in the slot to the outside. His ability to be a reliable target for Brady will make him a person of interest for the Broncos to contain.

Denver prefers to go heavy on man-to-man coverages, so look for a committee approach to dealing with White.  With Brandon Marshall being a question mark for Sunday, expect to see a combination of safeties T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Will Parks and Justin Simmons all taking a crack at slowing down the pass-catching running back.

Demaryius Thomas vs Logan Ryan

Logan Ryan enters Sunday as the Patriots leading tackler at 74 total stops. Not just on an island covering receivers, Ryan has also chipped in a sack and a fumble recovery from his cornerback spot. Based on matchups past, Ryan will draw the assignment across from Thomas.

Thomas has had an up-and-down season, to say the least. Dealing with a nagging hip issue and having young quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch tasked with getting him the ball, Thomas isn’t having his most consistent statistical season.

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Still, the big wideout has 925 yards on the year and five scores. With all the problems the Denver offense has had moving the ball of late, when they air it out, Thomas has been the benefactor.

A mismatch on paper, with Thomas coming in a 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, the smaller Ryan has proven to be a feisty and tenacious defender. It’s exactly the type of player that has given Thomas problems in the past.

The overtime game last regular season should serve as a reminder of that. When opposing corners get rough with Thomas, he can be bottled up.

Denver has made more of an effort to get Thomas involved and it worked to the tune of 10 catches for 125 yards last week against Tennessee. If Denver hopes to keep up with New England, Thomas will need to have a good game against the weaker Patriots secondary, including Ryan.

The Broncos know what is at stake this week with the Pats coming to town. A win will keep them fighting for another day in the crowded AFC. A loss on the other hand, would have disastrous implications.

The good news is that Denver is no stranger to these types of games and thrives when their backs are against the wall. With so much riding on one game, look for Denver to come out swinging in hopes of keeping its postseason dreams alive.

 Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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