Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will meet again as the Denver Broncos face off with the New England Patriots in the marquee game of Week 5. It wouldn't be a surprise if the matchup ends up being a playoff preview as well.
The Broncos are in survival mode right now. They have an extremely difficult schedule through the first nine weeks, but the level of competition drops off after that. So if they can survive the first half without falling too far behind in the playoff race, they should be good shape.
New England is coming off a major momentum-building road victory over the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots, who were losing 21-7 at one point, would have fallen two games behind in the division with a loss. Instead, they are tied for first with a record that matches Denver's 2-2 mark.
Anytime Manning and Brady battle, you know the sports world will be watching. Let's take a look at all the vital information for Sunday's game followed by what to watch for as two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history go at it.
Which team will earn the key victory?
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
When: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Listen: KOA 850 AM (Denver) or WBZ 98.5 FM (New England)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Line: Patriots -7 (Vegas Insider)
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Broncos: Nate Irving (questionable, concussion) and Matt Willis (questionable, hamstring)
Patriots: Aaron Hernandez (questionable, ankle), Julian Edelman (questionable, hand) and Alfonzo Dennard (questionable, hamstring)
What's At Stake?
Although it's not a must-win matchup for either team, the game could have a lasting impact when it comes to playoff seeding to determine where a potential rematch takes place. It's never too early to start thinking about things like that.
The Broncos are beginning a stretch of four of their next five games on the road, a stretch that will have a major impact on the direction of their season. Starting it with a win over the Patriots would be a huge confidence boost.
On the flip side, the Patriots want to start putting some distance between themselves and the other AFC East teams after an uncharacteristically shaky start. That's why the comeback last week was so important for New England.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Wes Welker
After a few weeks of concern about Welker's reduced role in the Patriots offense, he's returned to an elite level with back-to-back big games. Over the past two weeks, he's reeled in 17 passes for 271 yards and is now leading the team in both categories.
The Patriots offense runs a lot more efficiently when Brady can lean on Welker, especially on key plays on third down. Injuries to Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman returned him to that role, causing his fantasy value to skyrocket again.
Now that Welker has established himself as a key cog on the offense again, he should be a safe fantasy play for the rest of the season. That includes this week against a Broncos secondary that's struggled with consistency in the early going.
What They're Saying
Manning loves running a high-powered quick-paced offense, but also understands the importance of having a good running game to provide balance, according to Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post.
"When you can run the ball when you want to, if the defense is going to drop those guys into coverage, you have to make them pay," Manning said. "Those are the kind of options you're looking for."
"You’ve got to take advantage of all of them, but that’s one thing you want your defense to always be attentive to, is not just making the tackle or making the play, but trying to get the ball when we can," coach Bill Belichick said. "I think our players were aware of it, and they made some good decisions and we got the ball. That was great."
Broncos Key Player: Peyton Manning
The Broncos defense needs to force more turnovers and the running game must help maintain offensive balance, but when push comes to shove it all comes down to Manning. His level of play will determine how far Denver goes this season.
Manning has lost some arm strength since we last seen him with the Indianapolis Colts, but it hasn't had a major impact on his numbers. He's on pace to throw for over 4,600 yards and 32 touchdowns with a QB rating of 96.9, which is right in line with his final four years with the Colts.
The 36-year-old field general has always been more about accuracy and exposing defensive weaknesses than throwing deep balls anyway. Based on his play so far, the Broncos don't have anything to worry about.
How many times will the Patriots intercept Manning?
Patriots Key Player: Devin McCourty
This has all the makings of a one-score game. A turnover is usually the difference in games like that and, when the Patriots need a game-changing play on defense, McCourty is usually the player to provide it. He has 11 interceptions in 34 games.
The key for McCourty will be keying in on the short routes Manning has been feasting on through the first month. It all comes down to timing the play exactly right so he can jump the route and shift momentum to the New England sideline.
McCourty can't tip his hand too early and start trying to break on every ball, though. Manning will pick up on that and burn him. He has to pick his spots wisely and hope one of his attempts turns into gold for the Patriots.
Patriots 35, Broncos 34