Here is what I expect to see Saturday night:
Coming into this game, here is what we know about the Patriots:
Offensively, they are just getting Kevin Faulk back. The wide receivers look to be healthy. Their tight ends are as well. While the team defeated Jacksonville, keep in mind that one score was on a freakish Ben Watson play where the Jags seemed to forget that it is OK to tackle in this league, and the other was a long interception return for a touchdown.
The Pats offense will have to battle the frenzied crowd at Invesco. That will also likely diminish their effectiveness, especially when the Broncos crowd the line of scrimmage pre-snap and Brady will have no clue who is actually coming on the blitz.
The Pats ground game doesn't frighten me. Our defense can stuff the run when it has to. With a healthy corp of linebackers and our secondary back in tact, I like our chances.
Defensively, we know that the Patriots secondary is hurting. Troy Brown was playing both ways against Jacksonville. They have Seymour back, as well as Bruschi, but how well they will play remains to be seen.
Denver comes into this game with a mostly healthy squad, rested after the bye week. Look for a lot of platooning on the defensive line, a tactic that has been very effective for us this year. Darrent Williams is back, and though he may not be 100 percent, he will still be fast enough. Al Wilson and his thumb will be back on the field.
After seeing this defense rattle the Chargers so dominantly in week 17, without Williams and Wilson, you have to believe they will be a confident squad, fired up and ready to hit somebody come game time.
On offense, with Tatum Bell back, we now have all of our weapons at our disposal. This could very well be a big night for the unsung hero of the offense this season, in Kyle Johnson. Kyle has made key catches out of the backfield all year long, and has been an excellent lead-blocker as well. He will no doubt be a good relief valve for Jake if he gets pressured early.
Now for the real key to the game: Look for a monster game from Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie. Not just going deep, but coming across the middle, nobody does it any better than Rod Smith. He is as good a third-down receiver as there is in the league. His ability to get open and draw defenders his way might well open things up for Ashley Lelie as well. Given the secondary woes of the Patriots, and the effectiveness of our running game, play-action should give us some big plays Saturday night. Jeb Putzier will also benefit from play-action.
Clearly the Patriots are a well coached team, and they are trying to make history in this year's playoffs. The reporters all over the country are touting Brady as 10 and 0 as a starter. You can't argue with the facts, but they don't mean anything when the teams take the field Saturday night. One thing is certain, the Broncos are not intimidated by these Patriots.
The Broncos win against the Pats earlier this season means nothing either. All that matters is the 60 minutes of football to be played Saturday night. It will be a classic game, and I believe the Broncos will prevail, 37 to 24.
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