Five Questions With The Insiders
Broncos insider Michael John Schon and Patriots insider Jon Scott answers questions for fans
1) What will be the biggest difference between this game and the one in week 6?
MJS: The biggest difference between this game and the previous match up is in the secondary. Week 6 had the Patriots heading in with a rash of injuries and the Broncos exploited that early. Denver had its own share of injuries, playing without Champ Bailey they were forced into starting two inexperienced rookies at cornerback.
Now that the times have changed and both teams are relatively healthy, it boils down to the pressure of the NFL playoffs. While Week 6 was an important regular season game, it pales in comparison to Saturday night's do-or-die match up.
JS: I have to say injuries are the biggest factor. New England was in such turmoil at the time they played Denver; they had little chance of actually sticking with the Broncos in spite of the close score. A couple of dropped passes and blown coverages may have been the deciding factor, but injuries top the list.
The Patriots defense bears no resemblance to the one that played against the Broncos in week 6. Although some of the names are familiar, Seymour, Bruschi, Hobbs, Hawkins are in. Vrabel, Colvin, Wilfork and Stone are playing much better.
2) What wrinkles do you expect Mike Shanahan to put in for this game now that he's had an extra week of preparation? Will they make a difference?
MJS: Shanahan is working hard to devise a scheme to run against a 3-4 defense, something the Broncos have had limited success with over the season. The key will be their ability to pull this off in combination with a turnover free passing attack.
JS: Shanahan has obviously watched the game film of what the Patriots are doing to get to the quarterback. I expect him to use more designed rollouts to get Jake Plummer away from the pressure. The Patriots improved defense was in large part due to their ability to rattle the QB. That's easier to do when the QB stays still.
The Broncos will also probably try to control the clock more. I think their ability to run will be the difference, and getting Plummer to do more play-action to set up the pass will only be effective if the Broncos can run the ball. In their first game, New England managed to find enough time to roar back with 17 points and still have one more drive in the final minutes to try to tie the game. Shanahan knows this and will do whatever it takes to choke the clock off if Denver has the lead.
3) How did the teams change over the course of the season?
MJS: BRONCOS - The biggest change for Denver has been the improvement of Jake Plummer, who's gone from gunslinger to field leader over the last of sixteen games. His ability to control the interception ratio and play mistake free football has been instrumental in Denver's success.
JS: PATRIOTS - The biggest change has been on defense. The Patriots were horrific on defense in the first half of the season. Tom Brady could throw for close to 300 yards and still not have a chance to win the game because teams could just chew up the clock once they had the lead. In the second half, specifically the last five games, and even the Jacksonville game, New England knew they had to shut down the run. It was something they could not do in the beginning of the season but something have done well lately.
4) What one thing will make the difference in the outcome of this game? (Turnovers, injuries, field position or other)?
MJS: Defense and time of possession will play out huge for both teams. With two explosive offenses facing each other, it will be up to the defense to limit their effectiveness, thereby controlling time of possession. The team that can control the clock will be headed to the next round.
JS: Scoring fast. If Denver can score fast, so many other things will just fall into place for them; homefield advantage, the crowd, ability to apply more pressure on a weak Patriots offensive line. If New England can get out to a lead early, they can negate most of Denver's advantages and force them into a type of game they're not used to. One the Patriots can win.
5) Most dangerous team left in the AFC (Colts, Steelers, Broncos, Patriots)? And why?
MJS: Having lost to Indianapolis for two consecutive years in the first round the easy answer would be the Colts, but in all reality the winner of Saturday's game holds my bet to reach the final dance.
JS: I would have said Colts, but I no longer believe that. I think Pittsburgh can beat them, and I think both Denver and New England can beat Pittsburgh. I'd have to say whomever wins this game will win it all. I don't see an NFC team beating either the Pats or the Broncos. Denver at home is probably the most dangerous. If they win on Saturday, I'd be comfortable taking them to win it all.
PREDICTIONS (Winner, score, why):
MJS: Coming off a 13-3 season with 10 consecutive wins at Mile High I have to go with Denver in this one. I expect it t be a close, hard fought game but the Broncos momentum may be just enough to push them over the edge on this one.
Denver - 31
New England - 28
JS: Even though I believe Denver is the most dangerous team, this Patriots' defense has shown something I haven't seen from them in a long time. Breaking down the tape, New England was able to shut down some very good running teams in the second half of the season, and put a beating on opposing quarterbacks. Even the mobile Brooks Bollinger had no hope once his running game got shut down. While I believe in Jake Plummer's ability to create something out of nothing, I don't think the Patriots defense will allow what happened in week 6 to happen again. Add back in Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk who missed the first game, and the edge swings back to the Patriots.
New England 27
Michael John Schon is a regular contributor to Broncos Update. You can read more of Michael's writing here on BroncosUpdate.com. Jon Scott has been covering the NFL for over a decade and is a member of PFWA. He is also the the managing editor of PatriotsInsider.com.
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