New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (+3, 43.5 o/u)
The Patriots (11-2 SU, 10-3 ATS) and Broncos (8-5 SU, 8-5 ATS) have seen a lot of each other over the last half-decade. They have played at least once for the last five years, and met twice in three of those five seasons. In their matchup this Sunday (December 18, 4:25 PM ET), the Patriots will have vengeance on their minds when they return to Mile High Stadium, the place where their 2015 season came to and end.
With Tom Brady at the helm in 2016, the Pats have met little resistance. New England is now 8-1 under Brady and made a major statement last week by moving the ball with ease against Baltimore’s league-best defense. But now Brady has to go to the one place success has evaded him: Denver.
In nine career games at Mile High, Brady has a 2-7 record and has posted a very pedestrian 84.4 passer rating (97.1 career passer rating). It’s not just Brady, though; going back to 1984, the Patriots are an awful 3-15 in Denver.
New England will look to leave those numbers in the past and maintain its one-game lead atop the AFC. In order to do so, the offensive line will have to continue keeping Brady clean. The big men up front have only allowed 21 sacks this season (seventh-fewest), and Brady has only been sacked 12 times through nine games. The Broncos pass-rush was able to get to Brady four times in last year’s AFC Championship game, and has recorded 38 sacks this season (second-most).
The Patriots signal-caller may be able to hand-off most of the offensive load against the league’s top pass defense this time, however. Denver’s defense ranks 29th against the run and is allowing an average of 4.2 yards per carry (19th). The Pats possess the league’s seventh-ranked rush offense, and LeGarrette Blount is averaging 5.3 yards per carry over their last four games.
Denver will also be playing without their best run-defending linebacker, Brandon Marshall, for the second straight week. The Broncos will have no problem leaving their corners (Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby) in man coverage to bring T.J. Ward into the box, but their defensive line will have to be much better to help slow down the run. Nose tackle Sylvester Williams has been getting pushed back all season, and defensive end Jared Crick has been far too inconsistent. These two will have to play big up the middle to help slow down the Pats ground game and force Brady into unfavorable down-and-distances.
The Broncos’ biggest offensive issues have also come up front. Neither Donald Stephenson nor Ty Sambrailo have been able to give them much at right tackle, and the O-line as a whole is just too soft up the middle. Denver has toted the rock at an average of 3.6 yards per carry (28th), and has given up 36 sacks (sixth-most). The numbers wouldn’t suggest Denver will find any traction on the ground against a Pats defense that only allows 3.9 yards per carry (ninth), but New England has not been able to create much pressure this year (28 sacks, 15th).
Trevor Siemian has exceeded expectations this season, but Gary Kubiak’s insistence on establishing the run has led to 28.13-percent of the Broncos’ drives resulting in a three-and-out (third-worst). Kubiak will have to get creative in his play-calling to get his 25th-ranked offense on track. The duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders need to have the ball in their hands more often, especially against the Pats’ 15th-ranked pass defense.
“Football games are won and lost in the trenches,” says every knowledgeable football mind. This ubiquitous quote will hold true on Sunday. Denver will not be able to slow New England on the ground, and Blount’s backfield mates – Dion Lewis and James White – will expose the Broncos’ linebackers in coverage. Bill Belichick will ensure that Von Miller has very limited one-on-one opportunities, and DeMarcus Ware won’t have the game he did the last time they played.
Pick: Patriots (-3)
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].