The defending champions are coming to Denver next weekend, and the Broncos are respectful of them.
The Broncos were matched in the second round of the AFC playoffs with the New England Patriots, winners of the past two Super Bowls, when Cincinnati lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Broncos beat New England 28-20 on Oct. 16, but the Patriots were without many key players in that game, including running back Corey Dillon, linebacker Tedy Bruschi and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
The Patriots are healthier now, and the Broncos are well aware of how well they are playing.
"They were still a great team, even with injured people, but now they're a more enthusiastic and energetic team now that their key players and role players are actually healthy," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said. "That gives you a chance, saying, 'We can compete now at full strength.'"
The Broncos have played well against the Patriots in recent years. Denver beat New England in 2001 and 2002, and the Patriots needed a last-minute touchdown to beat the Broncos in 2003 even though Denver had to start third-string quarterback Danny Kanell because of injuries.
Past wins against New England, including this year's victory, aren't that big of a deal to the Broncos. Denver defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said he thought the biggest difference in New England since the first meeting between the teams was the re-emergence of the Patriots' running game. Kevin Faulk and Dillon both missed the game against Denver earlier this season.
"It makes a difference," Coyer said. "It makes the quarterback better, and he's playing good enough as it is."
--RT George Foster will be on the spot against New England. Patriots end Willie McGinest is coming off a great game against Jacksonville, and Foster will block him most of the time. Foster has had trouble with athletic rush ends this season.
--WR Rod Smith had a huge game against New England the first time the teams met. He had 123 yards and a touchdown. Smith will be a big part of Denver's gameplan again. The Broncos will test New England in the passing game after having plenty of success in the first meeting.
--QB Jake Plummer was very efficient against the Patriots earlier this season. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had 179 yards before halftime, averaging 19.9 yards per completion. The most important thing for Plummer this week is he has to play a mistake-free game. He didn't throw an interception against New England in Week 6.
--CB Darrent Williams could return from a groin injury this week, and the Broncos could use him. New England has plenty of capable receivers and can spread out a defense. Williams said last week that he expects to play.
--DE Trevor Pryce will be one of the players responsible for getting pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In the first game between the teams this season Denver didn't get a sack. Brady had time to throw and almost brought New England back in the fourth quarter from a 28-3 deficit.
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