Broncos vs. Patriots: Why Denver's Gimmicky Playoff Run Will End in Foxborough
Like he did in Week 15, Belichick will be looking for a way to stymie the Broncos' unconventional option-style offense. With Tebow leading the charge and a rejuvenated Willis McGahee, the option has led to a magnificent turnaround in Denver.
Tebow had the Broncos on a stunning six-game winning streak, complete with fourth quarter comebacks, last second scores and historic choke jobs (Chicago, anyone?).
Even with all of that Tebow-magic heading into their Week 15 matchup, and with the Pats spotting them a 16-7 lead, Tom Brady and the New England offense turned up the heat in the last three quarters to run away with a 41-23 victory at Invesco Field at Mile High.
The context of this game is totally different.
After that Pats game, the Broncos lost two more games against mediocre teams (Bills, Chiefs), and somehow backed their way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Luckily for them, they got matched up against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that was more banged up than Tiger Woods' Cadillac Escalade. With Ben Roethlisberger playing on a bum ankle and terrific center Maurkice Pouncey out for the game, Denver's pass rush teed off on Big Ben all game.
Roethlisberger was sacked five times and hurried throughout. He finished with an underwhelming 74.5 quarterback rating. While Big Ben made the plays at the end of the game, his slow start enabled Tebow and Denver to wrestle enough of the momentum to carry the game to overtime.
We all know what happened next: the entire Pittsburgh defense bit on a run-fake and No. 15 hit Demaryius Thomas on a 20-yard slant turned 80-yard touchdown pass to win the game for the home team.
Once again, it was Tebow over Common Sense. Game over.
Unfortunately for Bronco fans, the postseason isn't one game. Denver has a nearly impossible task ahead as they attempt to knock off the No. 1 seeded Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Once again, I expect Belichick and Brady to prevail.
Since November 13th, Denver has averaged a pedestrian 18.5 points per game while New England has lit the world on fire, averaging a little more than 36 points per game.
Brady should have his way with the Broncos defense, just like he did in their first meeting when he went 23-34 (67.6%), for 320 yards, three touchdowns (one rushing) and no picks. That game was Aaron Hernandez's breakout game, with touchdown machine Rob Gronkowski and Brady's favorite, Wes Welker, combining for just eight catches and 94 yards of offense.
Expect a little more from those two this time around.
The biggest change fans can expect to see, however, will come on the defensive side of the football. Remember that horrible first quarter? The one where Denver out-gained New England 167-4 on the ground? The one which had every Patriots fan reaching for the nearest garbage can?
Well, let's just say that getting Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes back should change things. Also, don't underestimate the "wildcat" advantage that Denver no longer has. As in, playing the option offense a second time, like playing against the wildcat a second time, will always be easier. There is no element of surprise this time around, and with Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dane Fletcher all healthy the Pats shouldn't have as long of an adjustment period as last time.
Remember that Andre Carter went down in that Broncos game. New England's defense barely skipped a beat, however, with Mark Anderson filling in and contributing two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Denver will surely focus a little more attention on Anderson this week.
As for the Broncos, they couldn't have asked for a worse week to play in Gillette. With offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien accepting the Penn State head coaching job for next season, the Pats scooped up former offensive coordinator—and former Broncos head coach—Josh McDaniels for this playoff run.
That means that the man who drafted Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas, Denver's two biggest offensive weapons, will be able to provide New England with any and all information regarding their strengths, weaknesses and anything else he gathered in his two years in Denver. Probably not substantial, but definitely worth noting.
Mark your calendars. Set your alarms. Saturday night. 8:00 PM EST. God is facing off against Jesus.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm taking God over Jesus, Brady over Tebow, and Gronk over anyone.
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