Both the Patriots and the Broncos are two very different teams than they were last year in their previous two matchups: a tough regular season Patriots loss in Denver and a season-ending heartbreaker of an AFC Championship game for the Pats in frigid Denver in late January. Denver is currently coming off of a demoralizing loss in Nashville and stand at 8-5. New England is coming off one hell of a Monday night win against the Ravens.
The biggest storyline for this game would probably be New England’s offensive line. As you may remember, the Patriots’ O-line last season was a disaster, especially in that AFCCG. Denver’s defense absolutely tortured Brady, with tons of blitzes here and countless hits there. Both Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming were nothing but turnstiles, but no lineman was necessarily great, either. Nobody could block to save their life. The offensive line gave up a total of 38 sacks in 2015. They had Dave DeGuglielmo as their coach instead of Dante Scarnecchia.
The difference this year? Calling this O-line solid would be an understatement. The improvement in less than one year is incredible. In the last four games, Brady’s protectors have given up only two sacks. Rookie Joe Thuney and Marcus Cannon have yet to allow a sack to Brady this season. Yes, that Marcus Cannon (!!). Nate Solder has improved dramatically compared to last season, as has Shaq Mason. Center David Andrews is having a fantastic sophomore year, and Brady has praised him for that, as well. The Patriots have allowed only 21 sacks so far this year. Last but not least, they have Scarnecchia back, who could very well be the one to thank for the bounce-back performance.
In summary, this offensive line is lightyears better than last year’s, thankfully. You can never be too careful when protecting and blocking for a guy like Tom Brady, especially as he gets older in age, even if his outstanding play doesn’t show it, and against a dude like Von Miller.
Speaking of the GOAT, Brady is even better than he was last season. He’s literally getting better with age. He’s better than his 2015 self, better suited to face a Broncos team this time around, even more so with the team he currently has around him. Through the nine games that he’s played this season, he’s thrown 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions.The man is locked in, and is as prepared as ever to play the Broncos in Denver. He’s just 2-7 when playing in Denver in his career, with those two wins coming against Tim Tebow and Danny Kanell.
At last, Denver is Peyton Manning-less. As a Patriots fan, I can’t describe how awesome it feels to say that. Instead, they’ve got rookie Trevor Siemian. He hasn’t done a phenomenal job thus far, nor a putrid job. Siemian has shown flash and shows signs of being a great passer. How will he fare against the Patriots’ defense? Who knows. It’s a coin flip on how Siemian will perform and how New England’s D will perform, to be quite honest. Both have been rather up and down in 2016, but the Pats defense may have the edge. Denver hasn’t been able to establish much of a run game, and if the Patriots can stifle them in that area and focus more on the passing game and having at least somewhat of a pass rush, they’ll be okay.
One quick note, the Broncos have been outscored 70-23 in the first quarter. The Patriots tend to do lots of damage to their opponent in the first fifteen minutes, outscoring teams 103-29 in first quarters this year. That will be fun to watch.
The teams’ health are also something to talk about. As you may recall, the Pats were completely banged up in both games in which they faced Denver, meanwhile the Broncos were relatively healthy. That isn’t necessarily the case this time around. New England’s Danny Amendola is the only serious injury for New England, while the Broncos have ILB Todd Davis, LS Casey Kreiter, ILB Brandon Marshall and C Matt Paradis notably injured. Plus, Siemian is coming off of a foot injury but that shouldn’t be a factor this Sunday. Yeah, New England is without Rob Gronkowski, but Tom Brady just threw for over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns against the league’s number one defense without him. That speaks volumes. Right now, the Patriots are 3-point favorites, so there’s that, too.
Even without the fan favorite Manning-Brady matchup, this is still poised to be a good one, with possible playoff implications. The Patriots are feeling themselves, riding a four-game win streak, beating probably the only team that could threaten to beat them at Gillette in primetime. And, they have Thomas Brady, but I’ll stop rubbing that in. The Broncos have been in and out of the playoff picture the last couple of weeks and have experienced a bumpy path this season overall. If New England wins this game, they clinch the AFC East, and the Broncos dig themselves into a deeper hole. Vice-versa, New England’s momentum is taken right away from them and into Denver’s hands.
From the thin air to the rivalry to the God forbidden crowd noise, these Pats-Broncos games are always thrillers, down-to-the-last-second nail biters. It’s very odd to see New England as 3-point favorites visiting Denver, but I can’t say that I hate it. This will surely be a good one to watch, whether you’re a fan of either team or not. It’s never not a battle between these two, and I expect no different after seemingly the one-millionth in the Brady era.