It's Week 16 of the NFL season, and the Patriots will conclude Sunday's slate of games on primetime as they take on the Broncos on Sunday Night Football. Even with the Patriots officially knocked out of playoff contention, this game matters more about the future than the present.
Week 15 was another defeat for the Patriots, this time against the Kansas City Chiefs. What we have learned about Bailey Zappe since he took over the starting quarterback duties is that he will outperform anyone in the first half and completely fall apart in the second half. Since it's a trend, it's safe to say Zappe will do this against the Broncos defense.
Zappe will likely be on the run for most of the game, as offensive tackle Trent Brown did not have a whole week of practice. But, he will have even more significant problems throwing the ball with Pat Surtain II lurking in the Broncos secondary. It would be wise for Zappe to throw on the opposite side of the field, as Surtain has been one of the most underrated defensive backs in the NFL.
Speaking of not practicing, the Patriots have already ruled out five players: Hunter Henry, Conor McDermott, Jabrill Peppers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Rhamondre Stevenson. Their absences immediately leave the offense shorthanded again this season. Henry's absence is a significant loss as he has been the security blanket for Zappe since taking over the QB1 role from Mac Jones. In his place, Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown will see more action and have big shoes to fill.
On the defensive front, not having Peppers is a massive blow since he has been consistently productive and been one of the on-field leaders for the Patriots' secondary. Now, guys like Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips will have to step up, especially against these young Denver receivers in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
It will be hard to stop Russell Wilson, as he has been heating up at the right time for the Broncos. Slowing him down and not giving the Broncos any extra possessions will be vital to winning this game. But should the Patriots win this?
Last week, the Carolina Panthers stunned the Atlanta Falcons, bringing their win total to two games on the season. If Carolina can beat the Green Bay Packers this week and the Patriots fall to the Broncos, the race is officially on for the first overall pick. That, is truly what is at stake this weekend for the Patriots.