So we’ve arrived at week 9 in the NFL and the matchup that has been circled from the start of the season is upon us Sunday afternoon. The Broncos and Patriots will meet in a game that has many underlying stories aside from playoff implications regarding seeding and possible home-field advantage for the playoffs.
We’ve got Manning vs. Brady/Belichik; arguably the best rivalry in football right now. Aquib Talib and Wes Welker come back to Foxboro as former Patriots for their first and second time. With that, we also have teams who arrived at week 9, arguably 1-2 in the AFC, taking very different paths. You can’t scrpit this stuff any better!
I cannot wait to watch this game. This is reality TV at its best! Here are what I think are the key factors in deciding this game:
Manning vs. Belichick
Both are masters at their craft and it’s always fun to see this head-to-head matchup. Can Bill Belichik and his defense disguise their pressure enough to confuse Manning and get to him? If you want to beat Peyton Manning you have to get to him and disrupt his time and rhythm. You have to play mind games with formations and blitzes from all areas and positions. Manning is a general out there; reading defenses and changing plays on the fly. Nobody is better. However, Belichik is the coach who has had the most success at coming up with schemes that get to Manning.
To me, this is the most important part of the game. If Manning can read the Patriots’ defense and audible out then the Broncos clearly have the advantage and will probably put up too many points. If Belichik and his defense can confuse and slow Manning down and put him on his back, the Patriots have a shot.
Brady vs. Broncos D
If you remember last year, Brady pu thte Patriots on his back with a tremendous performance in bringing his from behind to win an overtime thriller 34-31. The Broncos forced early tunovers but lacked the ability to close the game out. This year, with new additions like Aquib Talib and Demarcus Ware, the Broncos knew they had to get better on defense as to not let games like the Patriots last year and the Super Bowl against the Seahawks haunt them again.
This matchup will be paramount to say the least. Jack Del Rio is a good defensive strategist but Brady is right up there in terms of on-field intelligence. It just might come down to if the Broncos’ new additions can make enough of a difference to slow Brady down.
Peyton Manning has a nuclear arsenal at his disposal to throw to. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker along with Ronnie Hillman out of the backfield are a nightmare for opposing defenses. You can’t double all of them so what can you do? This is why my first point is #1. Your only chance is to get to Manning like the Seahwks did earlier in the year. The Patriots have a dual-threat at the CB position with Revis and Browner so they can definitely be physical and slow the Broncos’ WR’s down; that will help the pass rush. What I’d be concerned with from the Patriots’ side is covering TE Julius Thomas and RB Ronnie Hillman out of the backfield with linebackers. I’d expect Manning to try and exploit this matchup a lot; using Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as decoys at times.
Patriots’ Running Game
What is the best defense against Peyton Manning? Keep him on the sidelines. Hence the running game. We all know the Patriots love to use multiple running backs to change pace and dependant upon situation. This HAS TO BE part of the Patriots’ offensive gameplan. Chew the clock and fully establish a running game. You will definitely see Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen and a dose of Brandon Bolden; all three mixing up tempo with their run styles. Peyton can’t score if he’s on the sidelines. Patriots’ running game is a key.
Patriots’ TE Rob Gronkowski has been a beast lately for Tom Brady. He has been a wrecking ball after receptions; just steamrolling defensive would-be tacklers. There’s no doubt he will see a lot of double coverage. I have to think Denver will try to limit Gronkowski as much as possible and make guys like WR’s Brandon Lafell and Julian Edelman and TE Tim Wright beat them. Gronkowski is just so punishing when he has the ball and his yards-after-catch are just staggering. Denver has to limit Brady’s biggest weapon or it could be a long afternoon.
I just can’t go against Peyton Manning right now. He’s playing some of his best football of his career. Couple that with the upgrades Denver has made on defense and I think the Broncos get it done in New England 31-27; putting a strangle-hold on the #1 seed in the AFC.