Since Tom Brady took over as the starting quarterback in 2001, the New England Patriots haven’t had much trouble winning anywhere... except in Denver. Brady is just 2-7 in the Mile High City, and he’s currently on a three-game skid that included two losses last season.
The second of those losses is likely still sticking in Brady’s craw. Down 20-12 in the AFC title game, Brady drove the Pats into the red zone three times in the fourth quarter. Twice the Broncos held on downs before Brady finally got New England into the end zone with 12 seconds left. When his two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, Denver was on its way to the Super Bowl.
Brady and the Pats haven’t lost on the road since, and they get another shot in Denver on Sunday. The Broncos, despite still having one of the best defenses in the NFL, have been rather ordinary of late. Since a 4-0 start, Denver is 4-5 and has lost two of three since its bye. In fact, the only team with a winning record the Broncos have beaten all season is the 7-6 Texans.
So while Denver is currently in playoff position, hanging on to that spot will be tough. The Broncos have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL with games against the Chiefs and Raiders after this one. Can the defense hold off Brady one more time? It might have to if the Broncos want to defend their Super Bowl title in the postseason.
New England at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 18 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Patriots -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The Patriots must protect Brady
Another way of putting this would be “Patriots receivers must get open.” Despite rarely blitzing, the Broncos sacked Tom Brady seven times in the two meetings last season and pressured him constantly. But it wasn’t just because the offensive line couldn’t handle DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller; it was because the seven or eight guys Denver dropped into coverage made Brady hold the ball. Against an offense that prides itself on getting the ball out quickly and taking what the defense gives it, making Brady think twice before he throws is a victory in itself. If you see Brady standing around looking for receivers, that’s probably a good thing for Denver.
2. The LeGarrette Blount factor
Blount has been a much bigger part of the Patriots’ offense this season. He already has career highs in carries (248), yards (1,029) and rushing touchdowns (14), leading the NFL in the latter. Blount also missed the playoffs last season win an injury; we’ll never know if his presence changes things on those failed red zone drives, but all those rushing touchdowns suggests it might have. There’s also this: Last season Denver had the NFL’s No. 3 run defense and allowed only 3.3 yards per carry, tops in the league. This season the Broncos rank 29th in rushing yards allowed and 19th in yards per carry at 4.2. Blount averaged four yards per carry and scored last week against Baltimore, which owns the best run defense in the NFL. Don’t be surprised if he has a big game in this one.
3. Is Trevor Siemian coming into his own?
The Broncos’ young starting quarterback opened some eyes on national television a few weeks ago with 368 passing yards and three touchdowns against Kansas City. After missing a game with a bad shoulder, he followed up by hitting 35-of-51 passes for 334 yards against Tennessee. But the Broncos lost both games. If Siemian wants to stake his claim to the job long term with Paxton Lynch waiting in the wings, beating Brady and getting the Broncos to the playoffs would be a good start.
The Broncos are the more desperate team and are better equipped to slow down Tom Brady than perhaps any team in the NFL right now. But this is also the most balanced New England team we have seen in a while. Not only can the offense run the ball with LeGarrette Blount, the receiving ability of Dion Lewis and James White helps mitigate the loss of Rob Gronkowski. And the Pats also have a top-10 defense that has allowed fewer points than all but two teams in the NFL. Considering all that, we’re not betting on Trevor Siemian against Tom Brady.