Even though this is the second game of the weekend I’ll write about this one first, because from watching television, listening to the radio and perusing most sports related web sites it sure does seem as if this the only football game played this weekend.

 

#4 Denver Broncos (9-8) at #1 New England Patriots (13-3)
8:00 ET Saturday, January 14 on CBS
Television Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
National Radio Announcers: Dave Sims, James Lofton, Hub Arkush

Line: Patriots favored by 13½ after opening at -14
Over/Under: opened at 51; down slightly to 50 or 50½ depending on whose numbers you use.

 

By The Numbers:

Patriots Offense
32.1 points per game – 3rd
428.0 yards per game – 2nd
317.8 passing yards per game – 2nd
110.3 rushing yards per game – 20th
17 turnovers – 3rd
65.3% red zone TD scoring – 3rd
13.4 yards per point – 4th

8.6 yards per pass attempt – 2nd
65.7% pass completion – 4th
39 passing touchdowns – 4th
12 interceptions thrown – 5th
105.7 quarterback rating – 3rd
32 sacks allowed – 9th
173 yards lost on sacks – 6th

4.0 rushing yards per carry – 24th
18 rushing touchdowns – 3rd
0 fumbles lost – 1st

Broncos Defense
24.4 points per game – 24th
357.8 yards per game – 20th
231.5 passing yards per game – 18th
126.3 rushing yards per game – 22nd
18 turnovers – 28th
51.9% red zone TD scoring – 16th
14.8 yards per point – 22nd

7.5 yards per pass attempt – 20th
62.4% pass completion – 24th
24 passing touchdowns – 16th
9 interceptions – 28th
93.1 quarterback rating – 28th
41 sacks – 10th
283 yards lost on sacks – 8th

4.1 rushing yards per carry – 13th
11 rushing touchdowns – 15th
1 fumble recovered – 26th

Broncos Offense
19.3 points per game – 25th
316.6 yards per game – 23rd
152.1 passing yards per game – 31st
164.5 rushing yards per game – 1st
30 turnovers – 24th
45.0% red zone TD scoring – 25th
16.3 yards per point – 21st

6.3 yards per pass attempt – 28th
50.6% pass completion – 32nd
20 passing touchdowns – 18th
13 interceptions thrown – 8th
73.5 quarterback rating – 26th
42 sacks allowed – 9th
274 yards lost on sacks – 10th

4.8 rushing yards per carry – 6th
11 rushing touchdowns – 19th
7 fumbles lost – 32nd

Patriots Defense
21.4 points per game – 15th
411.1 yards per game – 31st
293.9 passing yards per game – 31st
117.1 rushing yards per game – 17th
34 turnovers – 3rd
55.7% red zone TD scoring – 23rd
19.2 yards per point – 2nd

8.0 yards per pass attempt – 29th
62.4% pass completion – 23rd
26 passing touchdowns – 22nd
23 interceptions – 2nd
86.1 quarterback rating – 20th
40 sacks – 14th
274 yards lost on sacks – 10th

4.6 rushing yards per carry – 24th
13 rushing touchdowns – 19th
6 fumbles recovered – 1st

 

Before a game I like to try and cruise the web do try to get some fresh perspective on the upcoming game; maybe a fresh outlook that I hadn’t previously considered will make perfect sense. But when it comes to this game the signal to noise ratio seems to be off the charts.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not doubt for one moment that Denver can win this game. That’s not the point though, because any team can win any game, especially in the playoffs. It’s just that commentary like ‘if (fill in the name of the team) doesn’t turn the ball over, gets pressure on the opposing quarterback, and forces some turnovers they will win the game. Well, duh, yeah; no kidding! Unfortunately that was for the most part all I could find as to why Denver will win this game.

That, and superficial excuses for the last loss with commentary that went something like this:

The Broncos gave the last game away, or words to that affect. Denver was crushing the Pats and then they turned the ball over three times; all they have to do is not turn the ball over and they would have won three weeks ago/will win Saturday. First of all this declaration gives no credit to the Patriots forcing two of those turnovers. Second it offers me no reason why this should suddenly change. The Pats are one of the best at forcing turnovers while the Broncos are near the bottom at protecting the ball. And before some Bronco fan says that those numbers are inflated from before Tebow became the quarterback, guess again; Denver turned the ball over twelve times in their last five games. Third, that rationale completely ignores the fact that the Patriots made adjustments, and assumes they would have continued to run the ball at the same pace for the rest of the game; that’s just not the case.

Broncos pressure Brady and they’ll win, blitz Brady and they’ll win, or other similar statements. If you are saying get pressure on the opposing quarterback without bringing additional pass rushers, that’s overly generic; how is Denver going to accomplish that? If you bring extra pressure by blitzing Brady will probably pick you apart; he has a quick release, excellent pre-snap reads, and a career QB rating of over 100 when opponents blitz.

Who covers Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker and Branch? I see a lot of ‘put Bailey on (fill in the blank), Harris on (another player), double (or put Bruton on) Gronkowski, with so many combinations it made me dizzy. The reality is that they may effectively cover one person with Champ Bailey and another with a double team, but that’s going to leave two others open; note how last time Hernandez had nine catches for 129 yards and Ochocinco had a 33-yard touchdown. In the last game against the Broncos Branch was not available and in last year’s playoff loss Hernandez was injured. The Broncos just don’t have the personnel to cover everyone. If the idea is with press coverage on the receivers that may work sometimes (see the Steelers game), but it is a high risk gamble (see the Eagles game); I don’t think the Broncos have the personnel that the Steelers do to pull that off either.

The Pats aren’t battle tested; they’re 0-2 against elite teams. First of all let me ask this: since the Broncos finished 8-8 and are therefore not considered to be an ‘elite’ team, shouldn’t that make this a moot point? Second of all, what is the record of all the teams the Pats opponents excluding their meeting each other? All of a sudden 0-2 changes to 7-2! Granted the other playoff teams records improve as well, but I’m confident nobody is bringing this up when you look at the same data in that manner. Additionally, I have never seen a study that shows a convincing correlation between record versus teams that finished with winning records and playoff success. Each game is a new game, making this a meaningless stat. Which brings me to …

The ‘Pats haven’t won since’ argument, which has now morphed into there being all this pressure on the Patriots which will cause them to play poorly. Compare the 2011 roster to the 2007 roster; not too many players on both lists, are there? The 2009 team didn’t have its head on straight and lost Wes Welker the previous week. The 2010 team was a team in transition that actually far exceeded any reasonable expectations by going 14-2. That record was somewhat of a mirage that caused people to overlook where the team really was at. To me the only pressure for a win is on Pats fans who are sick and tired of hearing ‘one and done’ and ‘haven’t won since’. Ultra competitive, successful professional athletes like Tom Brady don’t get to where they are by worrying what will happen if they lose; same goes for people in other professions. I guarantee you Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are singularly focused on what it will take to win this game.

 

So does that mean that I am uber-confident that the Patriots will win Saturday? Not really; cautiously optimistic would be more like it.

 

Before the last game against the Broncos my biggest concern was not what everybody else was talking about (Tim Tebow), but Willis McGahee and the rest of the Broncos running game. In-game adjustments by the Patriots aside, McGahee was having a very good game before he tweaked his hammy three weeks ago. Overall the Patriots are average against the run, and Denver has one of the best (if not the best) running attacks in the NFL. On the plus side for the Patriots the return of Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes should help a great deal in this regard.

A second point not to be overlooked is that last week Von Miller had his best game since he injured his thumb and began wearing a cast before week 13. The Broncos sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and it is imperative that the Patriots do not permit Denver to repeat that performance. In addition Jerod Mayo’s college roommate, Rober Ayers, has played very well the last two weeks. Ayers – labeled as a bust by some after his first two seasons – is a good run-stopper and has six tackles and three sacks in the last two games; he compliments the more well known Miller and Elvis Dumervil nicely in the Denver defense. Fortunately for the Patriots it appears that for the first time they may have their entire offensive line plus two primary reserves available for this game.

The third reason of concern is the Denver passing game versus the Pats defense. I could not care less about how many yards the pats give up, but what has been bothersome is the number of longer plays. While the Patriots are in the middle of the pack in passing plays of forty or more yards allowed, they have given up a league worst 79 passing plays of twenty or more yards. Demaryius Thomas is a concern, especially when the team needs to focus so much on the run; as good as Kyle Arrington has been this year he will have his hands full.

 

So after all that gloom are the Patriots doomed?

No, not by a long shot.

  • On offense the Broncos have no answer to covering Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez and Branch simultaneously.
  • The Pats seem to now have a better grasp at how to contain the Denver running attack, plus they have Chung and Spikes back.
  • The Broncos have a tendency to turn the ball over; the Pats do not.
  • The Pats have a tendency to force turnovers; the Broncos do not.
  • The Broncos are without long snapper Lonnie Paxton; don’t be surprised to see a special teams gaffe as a result.
  • The Patriots are getting healthier at on both offense and defense at just the right time.
  • The Pats are very focused and motivated after losing the last two playoff games, and all the Tebow/Broncos attention will allow them to play the FU disrespect card.
  •  

One last thing that I have yet to see anybody mention: Denver is coming off a highly emotional game and traveling to the eastern time zone for this game. Last time that happened the Bills hammered them. This time they won, and may have been enjoying that win for a day or two. The Broncos are traveling across two time zones on a short week, with additional time taken off for all the interviews. The record for teams playing on a long road trip on a short week is staggeringly bad. I just don’t see how they will be as mentally prepared and focused for this game as they were last week against Pittsburgh – and certainly not as prepared and focused as the Patriots will be.  I think Denver will give the Pats a battle, but once again a turnover or two will be the difference.

 

Last week I not only called for the Broncos to win, but I also nailed the margin of victory; let’s see if I can come that close again.

 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Broncos 20

 

Please note: these predictions are for entertainment purposes only; for me it is a self-test of my football knowledge. Neither I nor this website endorses or encourages gambling.

 

1 Unit on Broncos +13½
0 Units on over 50

 

Last Week:
Straight Up: 4-0
Against The Spread: 4-0
Over Under: 2-2
Best Bet: +4 units on Denver minus nine
ATS with confidence: 3-0, +7 units
O/U with confidence: 0-2, -4 units
1100 Units Risked; Net +260

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