Broncos vs. Patriots: 10 Predictions for Saturday's Game

Eitan KatzAnalyst IIJanuary 13, 2012

Broncos vs. Patriots: 10 Predictions for Saturday's Game

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    Tom Brady and the New England Patriots face off against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos this Saturday night at 8PM EST in the AFC Divisional round.

    Just figured I'd point that out in case you were living under a rock for the last week.

    Tebow led the Broncos to a stunning 29-23 overtime win over the reigning AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, producing a throwing performance for the ages. Surprising, considering Tebow's lack of accuracy and tendency to be a difference-maker as a runner.

    Coming into Foxborough, however, we should see Tebow's continued success through the air, as the Pats were ranked 31st in the NFL in both total yards against and passing yards against. 

    On the other side of the football, Denver will be relying on sack maestro Elvis Dumervil, and Defensive Rookie of the Year nominee, Von Miller, to harass Brady from the opening gun.

    The Patriots are favored by 13.5 for the game, and are looking for their first playoff victory since 2007.

    If Tebow wants to continue his improbable run to the Super Bowl, he needs to be flawless. He might be America's favorite athlete, but I doubt there are many who consider him a terrific quarterback, an image he is trying to change this postseason.

    A win in Gillette Stadium against the mighty Patriots is just the thing Tebow needs to take the next step in his progression as the rightful starting quarterback for the Broncos.

    Let's take a look at five predictions for each team during tomorrow night's heavyweight bout.

Tim Tebow Throws Less Than Ten Passes in the First Half

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    The last time these two teams met, in Week 15 of the regular season, the Patriots trounced the Broncos 41-23. Denver started out red-hot, out-rushing the Pats 167-4 in the first quarter (that is not a misprint), before turning the ball over three times in the second quarter.

    Denver's 13-7 first quarter lead evaporated, and New England outscored the Broncos 34-10 the rest of the way. 

    Tebow threw the ball eight times in the first half of that game. With all of the success running the ball, why should he have thrown it more?

    I'm thinking the same thing this weekend.

    Denver will go to it's bread-and-butter in the option offense with Tebow in the shotgun and running back WIllis McGahee lined up in the backfield. I expect head coach John Fox will try—like many coaches before him—to keep Tom Brady off the field with a heavy dose of running plays.

    The Pats get tackle machines Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes back for this game (both were absent in the first meeting), so running the ball may not be as easy as it was last time. By the time the second half rolls around, Tebow is going to need to take some shots down the field.

Demaryius Thomas Continues His Postseason Emergence with Another Stellar Effort

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    Demaryius Thomas broke onto the national scene last weekend with his phenomenal four-catch, 204-yard effort against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers pass defense.

    Three of his four catches were for 50-plus yards, including his shocking 80-yard reception to end the game on overtime's first play.

    Thomas is the type of receiver that has given Patriots defenders fits all season (although, to be honest, I think every type of receiver has given them fits), with his hulking 6'3", 235-pound frame. He has good breakaway speed, and his stiff-arm single-handedly won Denver the game last week.

    Against a porous Pats secondary that features a slumping Devin McCourty, an underwhelming Antwaun Molden, and a receiver, Julian Edelman, I figure Thomas will have another big game tomorrow night.

    With Tim Tebow's other favorite target, Eric Decker, out for the game, Thomas is really going to need a big performance.

    I say he gets one.

Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil Disrupt Tom Brady All Game, End Up with Only 1 Sack

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    Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have been wreaking havoc all year against opposing quarterbacks.

    Miller had 11.5 sacks in the regular season, while Dumervil settled for 9.5. Both will need to bring their game for the Denver Broncos to have any chance against Tom Brady and the high-powered New England Patriots offense.

    New England has averaged a little more than 36 points per game since November 13th, and they show no signs of slowing down. Since Aaron Hernandez's breakout game in Week 15 against these same Broncos, the Pats now feature one of the NFL's best receiving trios with Hernandez, NFL receptions leader Wes Welker, and tight end extraordinaire Rob Gronkowski.

    With those weapons, Brady relies on passes between 0-20 yards down the field, and expects those guys to do the rest (Welker, Gronk and Hernandez ranked 1st, 4th and 9th in the NFL, respectively, in yards after catch).

    If Brady's timing is off, the offense can be contained. That means Miller and Dumervil need to force the quarterback out of the pocket, and out of his comfort zone. 

    In the Pats' last three playoff defeats, Brady has been sacked five times twice. Obviously, that points to a correlation. Get pressure on Brady and the Broncos have a shot of holding New England under 30 points.

    However, with the healthy returns of stalwart offensive linemen Logan Mankins, Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer, I expect Brady to remain pretty much grass-stain free tomorrow night.

Tim Tebow Combines for Over 250 Yards of Offense

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    Not my boldest prediction, considering the New England Patriots allowed 411 yards per game of offense in the regular season. Still, 250-plus yards from Tim Tebow will ensure the Denver Broncos will at least make this game interesting.

    Last time they played, Tebow passed for 194 yards, and ran for 93 more. Unfortunately, his fumble in the second quarter off a Mark Anderson strip-sack led to a Tom Brady one-yard touchdown plunge.

    Against the Pats, if you lose the turnover battle, you almost certainly will lose the game.

    The 250 yards of offense are nice, but if Tebow puts the ball on the ground—or throws a couple interceptions—Denver may be unable to recover.

    Expect similar numbers to last time, with around 180 yards passing and 75 yards rushing.

Denver Broncos Hang with New England Patriots in 1st Half, Fall Apart in 2nd

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    Unsurprisingly, I expect the New England Patriots to start slow tomorrow night. It's been a staple of their eight game winning streak, and there is no indication of it going away any time soon.

    Like I mentioned before, the Denver Broncos came out red-hot against the Pats in their Week 15 matchup, jumping to a 13-7 lead with a dominant running game.

    Since that game, the Pats started off in a 17-0 hole against the Miami Dolphins in Week 16, and a 21-0 hole against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17. Both games ended in New England wins, however, so the first half struggles have been put on the back-burner.

    Denver should be able to hang with the Pats in the first half.

    But if Tom Brady and the offense come out firing in the second half—like they've done in almost every game in the last few months—Denver's offense will fall behind trying to keep pace. Tim Tebow has improved as a passer, and has nearly mastered Denver's option offense, but to ask him to put up more than 30 points is unfair.

    If Brady can get the Pats to that magical number 30, like he's done 12 times already this season, the Pats will win pretty handily.

The New England Patriots Running Game Puts Up over 100 Yards Rushing

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    For an offense ranked second in the NFL, the New England Patriots' run game is ranked a modest 20th in the NFL.

    The only reason that they aren't ranked dead last is the emergence of rookie running back Stevan Ridley. Ridley has rushed for more than 60 yards in the team's last three games, and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the season.

    Pats fans expected a big year from BenJarvus Green-Ellis this season, especially after his 1,000-yard rushing performance last year, but ended up being disappointed. Green-Ellis had a few good games at the beginning of the season, but hasn't rushed for more than 40 yards since Week 11. The Law Firm has scored six touchdowns since then, so it's not all bad news.

    Against a Broncos defense that allowed 126 yards per game this regular season—22nd in the league—I expect both Ridley and Green-Ellis to contribute, as well as X-Factor Danny Woodhead. 

    In their last meeting, Ridley and Woodhead combined for 105 yards on just 18 carries. If they can do that again this weekend, they will keep the Denver pass-rush on their heels, and give Tom Brady a whole lot of extra time to throw the ball downfield.

The Patriots Defense Lets Up Zero Plays of 40-Plus Yards

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    Last weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos exploited an over-aggressive defense and torched Pitt for five plays of 40-plus yards.

    That will not happen against the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick has long preached the importance of not allowing the big play, and I expect that to continue this week.

    Forcing Tim Tebow to sustain long drives is the best way to slow the Broncos offense. If Tebow can't get his long throws down the field to Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal, New England will almost certainly keep the Denver offense under wraps.

    The last time they played, Denver was able to get long plays down the field, but didn't break any plays of 40-plus (although there was a 39-yarder to Thomas). Patriots safeties Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and James Ihedigbo will be instructed to give up the short throws and stay back on any play with Thomas or Royal on the field.

    Tebow has not shown any ability to win games with sustained drives against high-scoring offenses for 60 minutes. This weekend will prove that once again.

    With no long plays from scrimmage, the Denver offense will fail to score enough points to keep up with Tom Brady and the Pats offense.

Patriots Tight Ends Combine for at Least 10 Catches and 2 Touchdowns

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    Good luck trying to stop the New England Patriots tight ends.

    Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are not just two great tight ends, they are two of the best receivers in the NFL, finishing 5th and 17th in the NFL, respectively, in receptions. Both are tremendous threats after the catch, as discussed before, and both are terrific in the red zone.

    Gronk, particularly, is a force inside the 20. The second-year tight end smashed (probably the best way to describe it) the tight end touchdown record, finishing with 17 receiving touchdowns on the season.

    Trying to stop Gronk alone is a task many teams are unable to do. However, stopping both Gronk and Hernandez is something no team has been able to do this season.

    The Denver Broncos have a great cornerback in Champ Bailey, but with the loss of Brian Dawkins, there is simply not enough cover-men in the secondary to contain New England's dynamic duo.

    Oh yeah, and let's not forget about Wes Welker.

    With Welker being slowed by Bailey, and I imagine some double coverage on Gronk, Hernandez should once again be Tom Brady's favorite target tomorrow night (he caught nine passes for 129 yards in the Week 15 meeting).

    Anything less than 10 catches, 150 yards and two touchdowns from the tight ends would be considered a disappointment.

The New England Patriots Will Win the Turnover Battle

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    Since 2000, the New England Patriots are 106-4 when they win the turnover battle. I expect that record to improve this weekend when Tom Brady and the Patriots offense not only win the turnover battle, but refuse to give up the ball even one time.

    Brady has thrown only two interceptions during the eight game winning streak, and the Patriots are well-known as a team that rarely fumbles.

    Against the Denver Broncos, the Pats must force some bad throws from Tim Tebow, as well as attempt strips on Tebow, running back Willis McGahee (who put it on the floor last weekend) and Lance Ball (who dropped one against the Pats in Week 15).

    This time around, New England will win the turnover battle, and in turn, the game.

New England Patriots Win the Game, Cover the 13.5 Spread

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    The New England Patriots aren't great against the spread, especially in the playoffs. They have not only lost their last three games against the spreads (all of which they were favored), they lost all three games outright.

    This weekend will be different.

    Denver doesn't have the offense to keep up with New England, and unless Broncos' head coach John Fox comes up with a brilliant game plan to limit Tom Brady, Tim Tebow will be unable to score enough points to keep this one close.

    Expect the Broncos to hang around in the first half before falling behind big-time in the second half. Once Tebow is forced to abandon the run, this game will turn into a rout.

    Prediction

    New England 45, Denver 20