When the Patriots Run: The Broncos are 9th defending the run, only allowing 93.7 yards per game and eight touchdowns in ten games. New England will still attempt to run on Denver, just like they do with every opponent they face. Last year LeGarrette Blount wasn't yet a member of the Patriots when the two teams played, but he'll get his first crack at the stingy Broncos defense tonight. The Patriots didn't stick with the run last meeting, opting to throw the ball 55 times, but if they do have success with it, considering their major injury problems at wide receiver, they'll try to establish it. Ultimately I think they'll be forced to use the running backs in the screen game too, so their contributions will come in multiple areas.
When the Patriots Pass: Like we just said, there are major injury issues at wide receiver. Tonight's active receivers are Brandon LaFell, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, and Matthew Slater; that is going to be a problem. To make up for the losses at wide receiver, New England will counter with four tight ends- Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, Mike Williams, and the newly activated from the practice squad Asante Cleveland. The Patriots will also use their running backs in the passing game, specifically James White and Brandon Boldin. It doesn't matter if the Broncos know the screens are coming, New England will have to do it anyways. It will keep the Broncos pass rush on their heels, a pass rush that will be missing valuable veteran Demarcus Ware. Brady won't have his typical game, but if the protection is there, he can lead the passing game to enough scores to win the game.
When the Broncos Run: Denver has struggled to run consistently in 2015, a surprise considering how well they ran in 2014. CJ Anderson hasn't played as well as last year and Ronnie Hillman has taken half if not more of the game-to-game carries; to be honest, Hillman hasn't been great either. The 27th ranked rushing attack will have to deal with the third ranked Patriots rush defense, a unit that only allows 88 yards per game. The pass defense may have some issues, but when it comes to running, teams simply can't do it when they play New England. The Patriots are still missing Jamie Collins, but expect them to shut down the Denver running game.
When the Broncos Pass: Peyton Manning will have another week to rehab his "injuries" and Brock Osweiler will start his second consecutive game for Denver. Osweiler did a good job last week, using his weapons to make smart plays that led to Denver scores. New England is going to struggle to deal with the dynamic duo in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanual Sanders, but the Broncos passing game isn't as explosive as it was in years past, in part due to the losses of tight end Julius Thomas and Peyton Manning's arm. The Patriots have shown that they can generate a strong pass rush to help their young secondary, and they'll get that pass rush rolling tonight. Denver will make a few plays, but the Patriots pass defense can handle this Broncos team.
Special Teams: New England remains the top special teams unit in football, but once again they'll be facing a strong opposing unit in Denver, the sixth ranked special teams unit in the NFL. Kicker Brandon McManus has been excellent, connecting on 20 of 21 field goal attempts and not missing an extra point either, no small task since they backed it up to 33 yards. Punter Britton Colquitt has averaged 44.3 yards per punt and helps provide the Broncos consistency in their overall kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal last week, but remains one of the top kickers in football. Punter Ryan Allen is averaging 44.8 yards per punt in 2015, but he isn't getting a lot of opportunities. Both coverage units have been excellent so this area appears to be even.
Bill Belichick vs. Gary Kubiak has been ugly in recent years, but tonight might be a different story. The Patriots are very banged up, especially on offense, and if Brady can't get it going, the Broncos offense will eventually break through and start to score. Here is the thing- Belichick thrives in these moments and this is the type of game he pulls gameplans out that nobody would ever imagine. With four tight ends and four wide receivers, Belichick and his crew had to get creative, but he's done damage to Kubiak coached teams recently and he's faced Wade Phillip's defenses in the past too, so there won't be any surprises. Belichick has the edge, but personnel may limit him; we'll see.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Broncos 16
New England is very banged up, but they're healthy enough to beat a Denver team that is missing their Hall-of-Fame leader in Peyton Manning and also missing excellent pass rusher Demarcus Ware, two players that had a lot to do with Denver's success. The Patriots offense is going to have some struggles, but they have enough to beat the offense-challenged Denver Broncos and continue their quest to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
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