It’s one of the most anticipated quarterback duels of the modern era: Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning. Both teams are coming off impressive wins, and this game proves to be one of the most exciting games of the week. Is Denver the same team they were last year? Can the New England Patriots expect the same outcome as the last two match-ups? Let’s find analyze this.
1. The New England receivers vs the Denver defensive backs
Everyone knows how stellar Champ Bailey is. The shutdown corner will likely be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Nonetheless, Bailey is clearly aging and isn’t the corner he once was, though he must still be respected. He called Brandon Lloyd the best athlete in the league, so we’ll likely see him shadow Lloyd. After Brady forced too many passes (futilely) to Stephon Gilmore’s coverage last week, he should refrain from targeting Lloyd too much tonight. Chris Harris is a solid nickel corner, and either he or Tracy Porter will see Wes Welker in the slot. Tracy Porter isn’t as good as perceived, but he does have big play ability. Mike Adams and Rahim Moore are decent enough safeties, but neither is as good as Brian “Weapon X” Dawkins was for the team last year.
Even if Lloyd is covered by Bailey, he still has the ability to make spectacular catches, and Welker continues to be one of the most reliable targets in the league. Gronkowski should abuse this defense like he did last year, and we might get to see Branch. Not having Hernandez makes this a closer matchup, but I still think New England has the advantage here.
Edge: New England
2. The New England offensive line vs the Denver defensive line
The Denver defensive line i nothing to sneeze at. Elvis Dumervil is still great, Justin Bannan looks like a stable replacement for Brodrick Bunkley, and Kevin Vickerson is playing at a high level. The only weakness is rookie Derek Wolfe – we might see the Patriots run to the right this game.
Hopefully the Patriots will have Logan Mankins for this game, as they’ll need him. I should also mention Von Miller as a defensive lineman, as he’s (in my opinion) the best 4-3 outside linebacker and a dominant pass rusher. The last times he’s played New England, however, he’s been blanked. It’ll be on Sebastian Vollmer to stop him.
3. The New England runningbacks vs the Denver linebackers
Von Miller isn’t just an excellent pass rusher; he’s also been asked to play the run more often this year, and he’s doing that excellently. Joe Mays is a solid interior linebacker, and Wesley Woodyard is an improvement over D.J. Williams. This is a group of linebackers that plays the run very well.
Nevertheless, I have to think the New England Patriots will be the victors in this match-up. Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley have been a revelation, and Danny Woodhead might even see some carries today.
Edge: New England
4. The Denver wide receivers vs the New England defensive backs
This isn’t as clear cut of a victory for New England as it seems. First off, Peyton Manning utilizes his receivers better than almost any quarterback in the league. Secondly, Demaryius Thomas is a tall receiver, who Devin McCourty typically struggles with. Thirdly, Eric Decker is back for this game; he didn’t play in the playoff game last year.
However, I’ve got a fair amount of confidence in this secondary now. McCourty’s been on fire this season, and he should be able to contain Thomas. Decker will likely have a good game against Kyle Arrington, but Chung can help him out. Tavon Wilson will be starting this game in place of Steve Gregory, and although Wilson is a rookie, I feel he’ll outperform Gregory.
Edge: New England
5. The Denver offensive line vs the New England defensive line
The Broncos actually look like a more competent offensive line they were last year. Kuper is back in the lineup, Clady seems better as a blindside protector, and even Zane Beadles is having a good year. However, the big news is Dan Koppen. J.D. Walton, the normal starting center, is out. The former Patriot Koppen will be starting in his place.
It’s unfortunate for him that he’ll be facing off against Vince Wilfork. I’m of the opinion that Wilfork will win every matchup in that scenario, but I’m not convinced that Chandler Jones will be able to beat Clady. It will take a supreme effort for the Patriots to overcome this offensive line, and that’s the only way they can win this game.
6. The Denver runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
Willis McGahee is still a force, and he needs to be accounted for. Manning would do well to utilize McGahee in order to keep the Patriots offense honest.
The Patriots have had a good season stopping the run so far this year. Unfortunately, Dont’a Hightower is out for this game, still nursing a hamstring injury. Bobby Carpenter has replaced him in the starting lineup, with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes playing as usual. The lack of Hightower will likely lead to more subpackages, which is something to monitor.
Edge: New England
Coming into this article, I was predicting a victory for the Broncos. Peyton Manning always gives the Patriots trouble, and Denver’s players have been quietly having a good season. However, watching the comeback against Buffalo last week gave me hope in this team. This one will be close, I have no doubt about that. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it ends on whether a final field goal is made or not. If the Patriots can effectively dominate the line of scrimmage, that will be the key to this game and the key to the Patriots winning.
Final Score: New England 24, Denver 23
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.