The New England Patriots are set to host the 9-1 Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium tonight. There are few matchups in sports that consistently live up to the hype. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning is definitely one of them. The NFL has seen some of its best games when these two quarterbacks have taken the field as opponents and while both Brady and Manning will consistently tell you the game is more than an individual matchup, we all know that they both look forward to the matchup as much as we do. But Brady and Manning will never be on the field at the same time, so while the individual matchup is compelling and the performances of both quarterbacks will certainly help determine the outcome of tonight’s game, there are plenty of other factors at play. Let’s take a look at the key questions for the Patriots much-anticipated week twelve matchup against Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
1. Can the Patriots banged up secondary limit Manning?
Four key players in the secondary are listed on the Patriots injury report as questionable, which means they have a fifty percent chance of playing tonight. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, and Alfonzo Dennard and safety Steve Gregory may or may not take the field against the Broncos. When healthy, all of those players would likely start. It’s very possible that of that group only Talib plays tonight. Dennard apparently underwent a surgical procedure on his knee this week and Gregory is still recovering from a broken wrist. Arrington is dealing with a nagging groin injury and with extremely cold temperatures forecasted it will he harder for him to stay loose, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he can’t go. If that’s the case, Peyton Manning will have not one but two rookies to pick on in the secondary in Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. How those two hold up against Manning’s vertical passing attack will be a critical area to watch.
2. Can the Patriots stop Knowshon Moreno?
It may seem funny worrying about the run against Peyton Manning, but the fact is that Knowshon Moreno has been effective for the Broncos and given the state of the Patriots rushing defense, the ability of the Broncos to run the ball with Moreno could be the difference maker. When Cam Newton wasn’t rushing the ball, the Patriots were effective at stopping the run against the Panthers. That being said, the Panthers relied more on the passing game against the Patriots and only gave their backs sixteen carries. Denver is not afraid to give Moreno the ball. He had twenty seven carries last week against Kansas City, so don’t expect the Broncos to be one dimensional tonight. To win the game, the Patriots will have to start by stopping Moreno.
3. Can Belichick frustrate Manning early?
Historically, the Patriots have been effective against Peyton Manning offenses by frustrating him early and building leads. Head coach Bill Belichick admitted earlier this week that the Patriots will have to be effective at disguising their coverage schemes against Manning. Their ability to do that may very well depend on who’s on the field in the Patriots secondary. If Kyle Arrington is active tonight, the Patriots will try and limit Wes Welker in the slot and make Manning beat them deep. With Bronco’s tight end Julius Thomas questionable, the Patriots know that Manning’s options in the middle of the field could be more limited. Now, Manning is certainly capable of beating any team with the deep ball, so this game could very well come down to how effective Bill Belichick and his safeties are at disguising coverages deep in secondary. It’s cliché in sports, but true when it comes to Manning: you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him. The Patriots will try their hardest to frustrate Manning early with disguised coverage schemes and hope Tom Brady and the offense can put some points on the board for the inevitable moment when Manning figures out the defense. It’s these chess matches between Belichick and Manning that make these games so fun to watch.
4. Will the weather by a factor?
It will be a balmy 20 degrees in Foxboro tonight at game time. The wind chill will make it feel like five degrees. Will the temperature and the wind be a factor? Tom Brady may be the best cold weather quarterback to ever play the game, so it’s hard to imagine the weather will be a factor in his production. Brady is dealing with a hand injury, however, regardless of what the injury report says. Brady’s throwing hand appeared swollen and bloody on Monday night so it’s possible the cold weather could affect how his hand is feeling.
Both teams have to deal with the weather, so it’s not likely an advantage for the Patriots. They are, however, more accustomed to it than most other teams. It’s no secret that Peyton Manning played for most of his career in a dome, but he’s a sixteen year veteran and at this point in his career has played in all conditions. It could mean that the Broncos will rely more on the Minnesota native Eric Decker as opposed to the Georgia born Demaryius Thomas. What it will certainly mean is that big hits will be harder to shake off. The weather could benefit whichever team plays more physical. If the Patriots can make some big hits in the secondary, they could use the weather to their advantage.
There are two things that bring out the best in Tom Brady: Peyton Manning and cold weather. He’ll have both tonight in Foxboro and you should expect him to be at the top of his game. With the bitterness of defeat still in their mouths and their offense fully healthy for the second straight week, expect the Patriots to move the ball well against a Broncos defense that has struggled to defend against the pass. Peyton Manning will also frustrate the Patriots secondary, but Bill Belichick’s defense will come up with enough big plays against Manning to come out on top.
Patriots 34 – Broncos 31