The teams that have represented the AFC in the last two Super Bowls will meet on Sunday Night Football with plenty on the line.
Not only are the Patriots undefeated, they have also outscored opponents by 141 points on the season. However, the Broncos may be getting them at the right time.
The Patriots will come into the game with injuries to key offensive starters in Julian Edelman, Nate Solder and Dion Lewis. On top of that, both the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills gave them tough games.
Though the Patriots have won five of the last six meetings between these two teams, this will be the first regular-season game played between them in Denver since December 2011.
With all of that said, Denver will still have to execute a great game plan in order to win. Let's take a closer look at what kind of game plan the Broncos might put together for this game.
Offensive Game Plan
In order for Denver to score the amount of points they are going to need to win this game, they are going to have to open up the playbook. Against Chicago, Denver called a safe game and didn't ask Osweiler to do too much, but that won't work this week.
New England is stingy against the run, giving up only 88.8 yards per game on the ground coming into this week. Only two teams have allowed less.
Denver should be committed to running the ball, but head coach Gary Kubiak should try and create some big plays by throwing the ball. Most of Osweiler's throws against Chicago were short and intermediate passes, but the Broncos need to try and beat the Patriots down the field in this one.
Having Emmanuel Sanders back will help. Sanders missed last week's game against Chicago, but Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post reports that he is probable for this one.
Looking at the cornerback rankings provided by Pro Football Focus, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan come in at No. 22 and No. 26, respectively. But when you delve a little deeper into those rankings, you'll see that Butler has allowed 673 yards on passes completed against him this season. Only two cornerbacks in the entire league have given up more.
Ryan has been a little better, but he has still given up 419 yards. In other words, Osweiler should challenge this team with the deep ball.
Though Butler will forever be remembered for the game-saving interception he came up with in the Super Bowl last year, he can be beaten deep. Odell Beckham scored an 87-yard touchdown against him earlier this season on this play.
|Quarterbacks vs. Malcolm Butler in 2015|
|Targeted||Receptions||Percentage Caught||Yards||TDs||QB Rating|
|Pro Football Focus|
If Denver can establish the run, the play-action pass and bootleg will become more effective. Denver can then try to get Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and even Vernon Davis behind the defense for some big plays. Osweiler has a strong arm, and it's time for Kubiak to allow him to unleash it.
Finally, Denver must protect the football. Though it sounds simple and it pretty much applies to every game, Denver can't afford to give the Patriots extra possessions. The Broncos didn't turn the ball over against Chicago, and that is something they must do in this one.
If Denver commits no turnovers and completes some big passes down the field, they'll have an excellent chance to win this game.
Defensive Game Plan
Tom Brady is averaging nearly 41 pass attempts per game. But he'll be without some of his weapons in the passing game on Sunday night.
Not only is Edelman out, but Danny Amendola may miss the game as well, according to a report from Doug Kyed of NESN.com. If that is the case, Denver's defensive game plan won't be very difficult to figure out.
Brady would have little in the way of trusted options in the passing game, outside of Rob Gronkowski. The Broncos should swarm coverage toward the tight end, having a linebacker and a safety shadow him on nearly every play. You may see instances where the Broncos literally triple-team him.
If the Broncos take Gronkowski away, it will force Brady to beat them with guys like Keshawn Martin and Chris Harper. The Broncos can sit back and play man-to-man coverage on those guys. If Brady can make plays on this defense with those guys, so be it.
Running back James White is a player to keep an eye on, though. While he isn't as good a receiver out of the backfield as Lewis, he can make plays in that area and Brady will likely target him several times in this game.
The Broncos will bring the league's best pass defense into this game and though they also have the No. 8 run defense, they must be ready for the Patriots to try to run the ball, particularly because of injuries to Edelman and Amendola. Expect a healthy dose of LeGarrette Blount in this game.
Finally, the Broncos have to get to the quarterback in this game, even if they don't sack Brady. Just getting a hit on the quarterback can be just as effective, so the Broncos should get physical with the offensive line and Brady. Rex Ryan and the Bills did a good job of this last Monday night.
If Brady is going to have any success throwing the ball in this game, he will need time to throw. Guys like Harper and Martin don't have the chemistry with Brady that Edelman and Amendola do, so forcing Brady to throw to one of them before he is ready could result in a big turnover for the defense.
Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips should plan to have several exotic blitz packages ready for this offensive line. Von Miller has four career sacks of Brady. He could have a big game on Sunday.
Key Players and Matchups to Watch
Cody Latimer: Denver's 2014 second-round draft pick finally caught his first career touchdown last week against Chicago. It seems he has a strong connection with Osweiler, so it will be interesting to see how he backs up last week's performance.
Bradley Roby: Bradley Roby had an interception against Brady last November. The Patriots like to spread the field with multiple wide receivers, often times lining Gronkowski up out wide. Roby should see plenty of action in this game as a result.
Denver Running Backs: The Broncos had just 43 yards rushing the last time they played New England. In order to stay balanced on offense and to help Osweiler be effective, they'll need a better effort this time around.
T.J. Ward vs. Rob Gronkowski: These two players will be forever linked ever since a tackle by T.J. Ward, then a member of the Cleveland Browns, ended Gronkowski's 2013 season. Ward is sure to see plenty of the big tight end on Sunday and he is a player that the referees will likely be keeping a close eye on.
According to nflpenalties.com, Ward has been flagged for seven penalties this season. He has been called for unnecessary roughness twice while being disqualified once.
The Patriots appear to be as good as any team in the NFL, but only when they're at full strength. They'll have a good shot to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but injuries are going to catch up to them in this game.
The Broncos likely feel rejuvenated with Osweiler at quarterback, and playing at home, they won't let this one slip away.
Osweiler will be impressive and the defense will punish Brady en route to a big win for the Broncos.
Final Prediction: Broncos 20, Patriots 17