Take two as the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are set to finally face off on Sunday afternoon. These two were supposed to play last week, but the NFL postponed the contest as New England dealt with a couple of COVID cases. Quarterback Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore were put on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but it looks like both will play Sunday barring any sort of last-minute downgrades.
This game will be a far cry from the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady duels we've seen in the past in this series. New England has won seven of the last 10 meetings against Denver, the most recent being when Brady beat the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos in the Mile High City back in 2017.
As for the present, making his first NFL start, Brett Rypien led Denver (1-3) to its first win of the season, beating the Jets 37-28 two Thursday's ago. Rypien is the ninth different quarterback to play for the Broncos since Week 8 of the 2017 season. He was filling in for Drew Lock, who missed the past two games because of a shoulder injury. Rypien also got the starting nod over backup Jeff Driskel, who played OK in relief of Lock in Week 2 on the road against Pittsburgh but then struggled the following Sunday when he got the start at home against Tampa Bay. The good news for Denver is that It looks like Lock and one of his favorite targets, tight end, Noah Fant will be available for this one.
The Patriots are dealing with their own QB issues, as Newton is returning to practice after spending time on the COVID-19 list. He was certainly missed when Brian Hoyer got the start against the Chiefs in their rescheduled game. Hoyer struggled to get much of anything going against Kansas City's defense before he was replaced by Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter. The former was 15-for-24 for 130 yards, an interception, and a fumble, while the latter was 5-for-13 for 60 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. It remains to be seen which one will get the start on Tuesday night with the expectation that Newton will miss another game. One bright spot for New England against the Chiefs was running back Damien Harris, who came off of injured reserve and ran for 100 yards in the loss.
Denver at New England
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Patriots -10
Three Things to Watch
Unfortunately, the Broncos got the short end of the stick in this move. They practiced last week for a game that didn't end up happening, so in some sense, they lost their bye week. A lot of the players took to the media and Twitter to express their discontent over the decision. This also begins a stretch where Denver plays the Patriots, Chiefs and Chargers all in a row. To make things worse, Melvin Gordon was charged with DUI earlier in the week and who knows what his status with the team will be. Meanwhile, New England also lost its bye week, but the Patriots got more of a break since they were forced to spend time away from the facilities. This is the first of back-to-back home games against Denver and San Francisco. Focus is never an issue for a Bill Belichick-coaches team, especially after a loss.
2. Injuries galore
Denver's injury list is rather long and filled with impact players. The offense is already without wide receiver Courtland Sutton and starting right tackle Elijah Wilkinson, who are both on injured reserve. But running back Phillip Lindsay is expected to return after missing the past three games with a toe injury, and the Broncos could get quarterback Drew Lock back as well. Lock, who injured his shoulder in the Week 2 loss at Pittsburgh, has been a full practice participant this week and head coach Vic Fangio said after Thursday's practice that the second-year signal-caller "could definitely start" on Sunday. The story on the other side of the ball for Denver is even worse with eight defenders currently on IR, including linebacker Von Miller, cornerback A.J. Bouye, and defensive linemen Jurrell Casey, DeMarcus Walker, and Dre'Mont Jones. New England, meanwhile, is as healthy as you can be especially if Newton and Gilmore return. Offensive linemen Shaq Mason and Isaiah Wynn have been limited ni practice by calf injuries and wide receiver Julian Edelman is dealing with a knee issue, but the Patriots' maladies pale in comparison to the Broncos'.
3. COVID effects?
It's been said all along that Newton was asymptomatic, but will he and the offense be able to pick things up right away as if nothing happened? Will the disjointed practice time affect the Patriots or will they be like the Titans and come back like nothing was wrong? I tend to think that Belichick will have his team ready no matter what. On the other side, I mentioned above that Denver was not too happy with the league and made it known to the world. Can this young team with a relatively new coach handle the circumstances or will they let it distract them on Sunday?
There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this game even with it kicking off a week later. The one known quantity is head coach Bill Belichick, who will have his team ready. New England wins this one easily at home, bouncing back from the loss to the Chiefs.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Broncos 6
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.