We are only one day away from what could possibly end up being the best game of the 2013 regular season. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots boast two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, as well as two solid teams to back them up. There will be plenty of talent on the field tomorrow night, so here are five guys to keep an eye on, as this contest unfolds.
1. Wes Welker
Patriots fans have been waiting close to eight months for Welker’s return, and now it is finally here. Welker was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL in his time in New England, and although he unfortunately gets a lot of heat for some untimely drops, he still is thought of in a positive manner by most Pats fans. Welker will most likely be matched up with Kyle Arrington (assuming he plays) for most of the game, and it will be interesting to see if Welker is able to tear apart the inside of the New England defense, in the same fashion that he has done throughout this season.
2. Chandler Jones
As I mentioned yesterday, Chandler Jones and the rest of the Patriot front four must have a good game tomorrow, if they want any shot at coming out victorious. Peyton Manning is one of the all time greats against the blitz, and teams that generally have success against him, are squads that can get pressure with a four man rush. Jones is the most talented pass rusher that New England has, so it will be key for him to win his one on one matchups, in an effort to make Manning uncomfortable.
3. New England’s Offensive Line
I am not going to single out one specific player up front, because the entire line must play well if the Pats want to be productive on offense. Brady has all of his weapons back, but he won’t be able to utilize them if he has no time to throw the football. Denver is not one of the best pressure defenses in the league, checking in at 13th in the league in sacks. However they can bring the heat if needed, making the battle in the trenches huge for the Patriots.
4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Most of the attention of the Denver defense will have their attention focused between the hashes, because of the weapons that the Patriots deploy in that area. This will leave guys like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins one on one matchups on the outside, with a large majority of them coming against DRC. Rodgers-Cromartie can’t allow the outside guys of New England to get going, because if that happens, the Broncos have no chance of stopping the Patriots aerial attack.
5. Devin McCourty
The Broncos are a team loaded with offensive talent, which makes it tough for mastermind Bill Belichick to employ his vaunted “take away your best player” defense. This places a lot of pressure on safety Devin McCourty, as he will be faced with keeping all of Denver’s explosive athletes in front of him. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are terrific perimeter receivers, and Julius Thomas is a nightmare in the middle. He probably won’t end up defending any of these players one on one, but he must make sure that they don’t get behind him, otherwise New England could be in for a long night.