Broncos vs. Patriots: Predicting Stats, Stars and Score for Saturday's Game
The teams will be meeting in Foxborough for a big rematch, and the Broncos will be gunning for the top-ranked Patriots.
Will the Patriots send the Broncos home with a loss, or will Denver get revenge and end New England's season prematurely?
Rushing: 170 yards, 2 touchdowns
Passing: 180 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Denver's offense has been very conservative since Tebow took over as the starter, but the Broncos have started to open up their game, as seen against the Steelers last week.
Chances are that the Patriots will play zone coverage more and put fewer players in the box, letting the Broncos run the ball frequently rather than selling out to stop the run and giving up the big passes that killed Pittsburgh.
Either way, Denver should be harder to stop than they have been all year with Tebow's continued improvement. The Patriots gave up plenty to the Broncos in the first meeting, especially early on, and the Broncos are probably a little better now than they were then on offense.
They will still lean heavily on the running game, but Tebow should have a decent game through the air as well, assuming he throws accurate passes and his receivers catch them.
Rushing: 90 yards, 1 touchdown
Passing: 330 yards, 3 touchdowns
Denver's defense has been one of the heroes during their remarkable run with Tebow, but New England's outstanding offense ate them up in the first meeting.
The Broncos are aging at cornerback and very youthful at safety, which is not a good combination in the secondary. New England should be able to exploit matchups in the passing game, and even if the Broncos know what's coming, they may not be able to do anything about it.
The Patriots haven't had much in the running game this year, though their running back stable is plentiful and serviceable. This offense probably won't need the running game much against the Broncos, and they won't crack 100 in that category this time around.
Stars: Tim Tebow, Willis McGahee, Elvis Dumervil
Say what you want about Tim Tebow and whether or not he's fit to be a starting NFL quarterback, but let's be real for a second: Can anybody honestly claim the Broncos would still be in the playoffs right now—or at all—if Tebow had not been thrust into the starting role?
I don't think so. Tebow has been the furthest thing from a conventional quarterback, but his skills as a leader and a runner, as well as his improving passing game, have helped the Broncos immensely and will make Denver a threat to anyone at any time as long as Tebow retains the gig.
It's not as if Tebow has been without help, though. Running back Willis McGahee has been a steady veteran presence on the offense and frequently takes pressure off of his quarterback. He should be a big factor against New England.
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil could also have a big day. Dumervil is a pass-rushing specialist that may need to step up his game since Von Miller will be slowed down. If he can get pressure on Brady and generally camp out in New England's backfield, it would really make life hard for the Pats.
Stars: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Mark Anderson
Tom Brady is about as obvious a pick as you can get, and he should have a big hand in how this game goes down. Brady will be asked to pick apart Denver's defense again, which he should be able to do if he can get protection.
Even in the face of pressure, though, I think he will deliver. Brady has the same clutch gene that has helped Tebow engineer multiple fourth-quarter comebacks.
Rob Gronkowski is an obvious pick too, because he has been one of Brady's favorite targets all year. Their other talented tight end, Aaron Hernandez, abused the Broncos in the first meeting, so if they key in on stopping Hernandez, Brady will just go to Gronkowski.
Defensive end Mark Anderson had a great day against the Broncos in the first game, and he could be in line for another big day. The Broncos may be passing more than they did the first game, so that will mean more opportunities to get to the quarterback and generate sacks and force fumbles.
Score: Patriots 34, Broncos 24
The Broncos have already had a remarkable run, as almost nobody gave them a chance to even make the playoffs before the season began, let alone beat the Steelers in the Wild Card Round.
However, that run will probably be cut short in Foxborough.
Tom Brady and the Patriots will overmatch the Broncos defense, and New England will defend Tebow in a smart way, respecting his ability to pass and trying to play a bend-but-don't-break style.
Given the way their offense puts up points, that should be good enough to walk away with a victory.