This is a rematch of an earlier meeting, which was among the five wildest turnarounds games of the season. Denver could not hold a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 34-31 in OT. While exciting, the impact has little residue to making NFL picks or to NFL football handicappers.
New England Offense vs. Denver Defense
When these teams last met, tight end Ron Gronkowski was still a big part of the Patriots offense. Over a five-week period that started after their bye week in early November, Tom Brady averaged over 47 passes a game. Yet in that period, New England was just 3-2 (1-4 ATS) and ended up losing Gronkowski for the season with an injury.
Instead of trying to struggle to remain a passing team like early in the season, coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel completely altered the offense and placed the emphasis on the offensive line to perform and demanded their running backs Stevan Ridley and LaGarrette Blount run with more authority.
In the past three weeks, New England has averaged 214.3 yards per game on the ground at 41 carries per game and Brady’s pass attempts have nearly been cut in half to 25. Those studying the betting odds have to agree with Brady’s assessment of the offense, “Were a running team” and the Pats have won and covered three straight.
The Denver defense had problems throughout the season, but they were seventh against the run this season and for three quarters bottled up San Diego last week. That type of preparation should prepare them for Sunday and this matchup will boil down to a battle of wills in the trenches.
One final point, the loss of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. cannot be overstated. He’s the Broncos best cover guy and New England coaches will be out to create mismatches against Quinton Jammer, his replacement.
NFL Football Playoffs Edge – New England by three points
Denver Offense vs. New England Defense
Peyton Manning engineered the most prolific offense in the history of the NFL, at least by points scored and touchdown passes. For those making sports picks, that is quite a bit to think about if your preference is underdogs.
The Denver offense reached unprecedented heights because of four primary factors. The addition of Wes Welker spreads defenses too thin because you cannot cover everyone all the time. This freed up wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for more single coverage and they have combined for 25 touchdowns this year.
Manning’s arm strength was improved coming off the neck surgery which benefitted the deep passing game and the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas in both underneath routes and down the hash marks made this offense all but unstoppable frequently.
The one feature that brought it all together was Knowshon Moreno rushing for over 1,000 yards, providing Denver every element needed.
The Patriots defense has been injury-plagued yet was 6th in the NFL in yards per points surrendered. In this rematch, their secondary is as good as it has been all year, thanks to corners Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. Collectively, they could matchup pretty well.
Belichick’s defense will allow yards but they were fifth in sacks with 48 during the regular season and picked up three more last week. If they can harass Manning, this helps the secondary immensely.
NFL Football Playoffs Edge – Denver by seven points
Understanding the Intangibles
New England has won covered four in a row over Denver and Brady has a 10-4 advantage when playing against a Manning team. Sportsbooks opened the Broncos as 6.5-point home favorite and they quickly fell to -4.5 before they were bet back to -6 by those working the NFL odds.
Tom Brady pulled out the well-worn “nobody gives us a chance” card and the Pats wear this well being 18-6-2 ATS as road underdogs since 2003.
Yet this is New England’s first road playoff game in seven years and Denver is 15-3 and 11-6-1 ATS since “The Sherriff” (John Gruden reference) arrived in the Mile High City and the Broncos understand this is very likely their best shot at the Super Bowl with Manning 38 years old next season.
NFL Football Playoffs Edge – Denver by three points
NFL Pick – Denver by seven points