The 6-2 Patriots welcome the 6-1 Denver Broncos to Foxboro for a Week Nine showdown that is sure to have major playoff implications. Last year the Broncos secured the top spot and ended up hosting the AFC Championship game, and this season is on the same track as last year. The Patriots and Broncos have both gone through significant personnel changes, mainly on defense, so today we get to find out who made the smarter moves. Let's take a look at the Weekly Five to determine who wins this pivotal matchup.
1. How will the Patriots move the ball?
Up until the AFC Title Game in late January, the Patriots really had no issues scoring against Jack Del Rio and his vanilla defenses. Brady historically has tortured Del Rio defenses so I think it is safe to say January' game was more an aberration than the norm. The Broncos added T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib to their secondary while adding Demarcus Ware to boost their pass rush, which took a hit last year when Elvis Dumervil went to the Ravens. The moves should help the Broncos cause on Sunday, but nobody can stop a healthy Gronkowski and the passing game is starting to get hot because of this. Denver has stopped the run, but I see the Patriots hitting a few large runs Sunday evening. Brady, Gronk and Edelman will all have big games tonight.
2. Can the Broncos score against the New England defense?
In one simple word- yes. The Broncos can and will score on any defense they face, but the real question is can the Patriots keep Manning and Co. in the low 20's. The answer to that question is also yes, and the reason is simple- New England has the best secondary in football to date. Revis may not be getting love from the clueless on sports talk radio, but he has been as advertised and has transformed the Patriots pass defense into the best in football. Revis will be locked up with Demaryius Thomas, Browner will probably be keeping an eye on Julius Thomas, Ryan matched up on Sanders and expect Alfonzo Dennard to be active and facing off with Wes Welker. Denver has run all over the Patriots the last two seasons, but Ronnie Hillman doesn't run as physical as Knowshown Moreno, which is to the Patriots advantage. They handle speed backs better than they handle power backs. Denver will score points, but they will have to earn everything they get. The Patriots must get some type of pass rush today to get Manning off his spot.
3. Who has the edge in the coaching match up?
John Fox is an excellent coach who has a proven track record and extremely talented roster, but he isn't on Belichick' level. Fox has Del Rio leading his defense, which puts him at a disadvantage because his defenses are very basic. In 2014, the Broncos upgraded defensive talent has made the coaching look good, but facing the Patriots offense tends to expose issues, and the Patriots coaching staff has surely found some areas of weakness on both sides of the ball for Denver. New England, as usual, has the advantage in the coaching matchup.
4. Will the Broncos find a way to give Brady fits?
The vastly improved Denver defense COULD give Brady fits, but could and should certainly don't mean they will. Are the Broncos going to try and disguise things to confuse Brady or will they run their team out and attempt to win with strictly talent, Jimmies and Joes over x's and o's. It will most likely be the latter, and Brady has proven before that no matter how much talent a defense may have, he can scorch it if he can read it (Texans and Steelers are two example). He has always been able to read Del Rio' defense, and if they can block Ware, Miller and Knighton, it could be a big day for Brady and the offense.
5. Who wins the game?
Most people think the Broncos are going to come to Foxboro and win, but I just don't see it happening. Manning has had his struggles against strong secondaries, mainly because he doesn't have the velocity to throw into tight spaces anymore. If the Patriots continue to cover receivers tight, Manning could be in line for a few turnovers today. Special teams could also be a factor today; Julian Edelman is due for a return and he tends to do it in big moments. With the emergence of Brandon Lafell, the Broncos will find it difficult to cover everyone on the New England offense and this will ultimately decide the game.
Patriots 38, Broncos 24