NFL Week15 Preview: Patriots vs. Broncos
As usual, a game against the Baltimore Ravens almost gave me a heart attack. A game that should have resulted in a 30-point deficit ended up being predictably close, and surprisingly Special Teams was the reason for that. If I’m Belichick, I put Cyrus Jones on the shelf as far as kickoff/punt returns go until next season. You don’t want to completely give up on your #1 draft pick after a few (a lot) rookie woes, but it’s clear he’s got a confidence issue and isn’t quite ready for the bright lights. We’re up 28-3 and about to get the ball back, and for some reason he decides to run next to a punt and fumbles at the 2-yard line. But aside from that, I was happy with how we played against the league’s #1 defense. That’s what leaves me encouraged about how we’ll fare on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
These two teams played just last year in the AFC Championship in a game that Tom Brady would like to forget. But they are completely different teams this time around, and it seems to favor the Patriots. We came into last season’s game with the 30th ranked rushing offense in the league, and Blount being on IR had a ton to do with that. Dion Lewis had also torn his ACL at that point, so we were left to see passing back James White and old ass Steven Jackson combine to rush for 44 yards. Not only are Blount and Lewis both back, but the Patriots now have a much-improved run offense that’s ranked 7th in the league. There are 3 new starters along our o-line this year, and the return of coach Dante Scarnnechia has made the world of difference. This also isn’t the top-5 rushing defense Denver had last year; only 3 teams have given up more rushing yards this season than the Broncos.
But with Earl Thomas out of the fold in Seattle, Denver still has the best secondary in the league led by one of my favorite Patriots ever, CB Aqib Talib. That’s why I expect us to come out and establish the run early against an already terrible rushing defense that’s missing its best LB in Brandon Marshall. It will set up a second half that will be heavy with play-action after that secondary starts to creep up to help limit Blount. This should also be a big game for James White and Dion Lewis as pass catchers because Denver will likely be starting 2 backup linebackers. But other than Blount runs, short passes to backs, and play action passes up the seam, I don’t see McDaniels putting Brady in a position where he might have to hold the ball too long. Denver is still elite up front with Von Miller and company, and it will be tough for our receivers to create separation from Talib and Chris Harris.
I think our defense is finally rounding into form. I doubt Belichick is too worried about Trevor Siemian, especially with limited weapons. Logan Ryan has been Demaryius Thomas’ kryptonite over the past two seasons, so the focus will be on limiting Emmanuel Sanders. With next to no rushing attack, I like our defense’s chances against this Denver Offense. This game will likely be low scoring, so in that situation I trust Brady to put more points on the board than Siemian.
Two other random thoughts: I feel as though last week put Brady in the lead as far as the MVP race goes, and I love the fact we claimed Michael Floyd off waivers this week. Floyd may not contribute for a couple of weeks, but there isn’t a receiver on our roster with the skillset he has. The fact that he has already played in our offense under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame makes rolling the dice on him worth the risk despite his recent arrest. The guy just got a little too turnt.
Anyway, Patriots over the Broncos in a close one.