Let's get this straight—the New England Patriots are traveling to face a Denver Broncos team with a mediocre defense, a coach in over his head and a gimmicky quarterback who can't throw, and this is supposed to provide a playoff-caliber challenge?
You'd better believe it.
Just a few weeks after Patriots fans must have gazed down the schedule, seen the Dec. 18 matchup and started licking their chops, that defense has turned rock solid, the coach has entered discussions for Coach of the Year, and the quarterback keeps winning and fueling what has become the league's biggest story of the year.
The next opponent for the New England Patriots will be Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. It was supposed to be a blowout. Will it be?
Well, don't hold your breath.
On paper, the Patriots appear as if they should have this game in the bag. New England rarely gets held under 30 points, while Denver fights, scratches and claws to get to 17. Tebow has been the best thing going for the Broncos, but are we really ready to put him in Tom Brady's class?
In the past few weeks, Denver has proven it has something special going for it. The Patriots and their fans saw it in 2001. The Broncos, ignored at the start of the season, are a collection of players that are playing their best football every single week, thanks in part to an undying confidence in the man under center.
That makes them a very dangerous football team.
That makes the Broncos hard to put away. It makes them score 35 points when their opponent scores 32, and 13 when the other team scores 10. It makes them hang around and hang around and hang around, giving Tebow the chance to come through at the end and prove the players right one more time.
So don't think the Patriots are going to roll over Denver in this game. They definitely could. Would anybody really be surprised if Brady is in sync with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski early on and puts quick points on the board?
Would it be a shock if Tebow starts off 7 of 17, allowing New England to get stops and build a 21-0 lead before the Mile High crowd knows what happened?
Sure, it could happen. It very well might. But the Broncos have gotten to this point by preventing that from occurring.
These Broncos make you work. They make sure the game comes down to a few big moments, and they make you play better in those moments than their quarterback does. So far, no one has.
Of course, the Broncos haven't played Brady yet. And Brady has shown he's up for the late-game challenge. As good as Tebow has been at the end of games, Brady has matched him. He's provided flashback after flashback to the championship years, dialing up clutch drives and coming through in big games against the Cowboys, Giants, Jets and Eagles.
The Broncos will require him to put them on that list. The Patriots won't roll to victory Sunday. They should win, but they'll need to play playoff-caliber football to get it done. At this point in the season, following a few uninspiring victories, that's a challenge that's probably for the best.
The Redskins and Colts aren't awaiting in January. The Steelers, Ravens and Jets—remember them?—will be. The Patriots will have to find that playoff form soon. The Broncos will show them how close they are.
Yes, the Broncos. That team with the stupid option offense, the team that can't score on offense, the team with a president that doesn't believe in his own quarterback.
Dismiss them if you wish. But you've been warned.