The game that we’ve been waiting for since the schedules were released is finally here. The Patriots play at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver today, a city that has not been kind to the Patriots.
The Pats had that amazing comeback in November 2013, they crushed the Broncos in the 2014 regular season, and were so far in the Broncos’ heads last January that the Broncos shut down partly because they didn’t want to face the Patriots in Foxboro, according to Demaryius Thomas. But those 3 instance all involved Gillette Field, and Mile High has not been so kind to the Pats.
New England did beat Tim Tebow in December 2011, but the Broncos have won important games against the Pats multiple times since the turn of the century. They ended The Brady Bunch’s season in 2005 and 2013, and they won the showdown between Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick in 2009 when the Broncos improved to 5-0. Mile High is no easy pace to play, and even the mighty Patriots have struggled there.
I am in Denver for the game today, and yes, I’m pissed that I don’t get to see the last Brady-Manning matchup ever. But if the Pats win, then this will still go down as the game that Brady ended the title window of the Peyton Manning Broncos, barring another matchup between the two teams in the playoffs.
The Patriots are the favorites in this game, and it’s clear that they should be without DeMarcus Ware. Ware’s absence is a huge loss for the Broncos. Over the years, there has been one type of team that consistently gives Tom Brady trouble: Teams with multiple pass rushers. The Giants won those Super Bowls because they had 3 guys who could get after Brady. The Jets of 2010 and the Broncos of 2013 are also prime examples. And in even more recent memory, the 2014 Seattle Seahawks are a perfect instance to demonstrate the difference in how the Patriots fare vs. 1 pass rusher with how they fare against 2 or 3. Through the first 3 quarters, Michael Bennett was the MVP of the game, but he was only able to wreak so much havoc because the Pats also had to worry about Cliff Avril on the other side. When Avril went down on Brady’s interception in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots owned the 4th. Another reason they shut down Bennett for the final 2 drives was because the Seahawks defense tired out because the Patriots fan so many plays with all their quick passes and rushing to the line, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Pats can control the clock as well today in order to wear the Broncos defense down by the 4th.
Brock Osweiler will likely do better today than Peyton Manning would have considering it’s under 20 degrees here and that Manning had worn down significantly in his past few games. That being said, I’ll still take Belichick over Osweiler in a the matchup. I don’t think the Pats will shut down Osweiler, but I’d be really surprised if the Broncos managed anything more than 21 point on offense. Probably more like 16 or 17.
The key to today’s game will be Rob Gronkowski. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris can shut down Brandon LaFell and Whichever Receiver the Patriots Give the Second Most Snaps, and that will likely be their assignments because Wade Phillips isn’t a fan of putting a corner like Talib on a tight end like Gronk. That being said, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if he used Talib’s size on Gronk. That’s what I would do if I was Phillips, but who knows.
For a final prediction, I’ll say 24-17 Pats. But the best prediction, given the magnitude of this game, is that one important aspect of this game will be completely unpredictable. Let’s go Pats.