Broncos vs. Patriots Week 15 Game Preview

The (8-5) Denver Broncos will host the (10-3) New England Patriots this Sunday. After beginning the year 1-4, the Broncos have won six-straight to improve to an 8-5 record and sit in first place in the AFC West. The Patriots have a hold on the AFC East with a 2-game lead on the New York Jets. Denver is looking to win its seventh consecutive game for the first time since the 1998 season and New England has a notion to extend their own five-game winning streak when they face off with the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Weather and Conditions


Kickoff for this week's game is scheduled for Sunday December 18th at 2:15 pm MST. It will be broadcast by CBS. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms providing his biased color commentary.

Officiating the game will be Mike Carey and his crew.

Few
Partly Sunny
Temperature: 23/54f


For the current weather conditions, please go here.


Injuries and external factors


The Patriots lost 11 players to injured reserve this season. Eight of them from the Defense. Linemen Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Rookie Christian Cox----DBs Bret Lockett, Rookie Ras-I Dowling and former Bronco Josh Barrett---Linebackers Jermaine Cunningham and Rookie Jeff Tarpinian. Offensive Linemen Rookie Kyle Hix, Rich Ohrnberger and starting Center Dan Koppen.

There are more recent injuries that may factor in the game. WR Deion Branch left last week's game with a groin injury and didn't return. LB Brandon Spikes missed his 5th game due to a knee injury. He did practice late last week, but was downgraded and did not make the trip to Washington.

S Patrick Chung missed Sunday's game due to a foot injury. He and LB Brandon Spikes are the two players the Patriots are banking on to return soon. It won't be this Sunday even though they are both practicing again.


OFFENSE


This chart represents the Rankings for the Patriots Offense as compared to the Broncos Defense. I have also included last week's rankings for the Broncos so you can see progress or regress. The DVOA stat is taken from Football Outsiders and is explained here.

Patriots Broncos
Offense Rank Category Rank Defense Last Week
30.5 3rd Points For 22nd 23.2 24th
424.4 2nd Total Yds 19th 357.1 24th
319.3 2nd Pass Yds 16th 232.9 23rd
105.1 21st Rush Yds 21st 124.2 20th
22 28th Most Sacks 4th 37 T-5th
N/A N/A Forced Fumbles T-14th 11 T-14th
11 T-9th Least Interceptions T-25th 9 T-23rd
45.8% 5th 3rd Downs 8th 34.1% 12th
35.3% 1st Overall DVOA 18th 5.0% 17th
9 5th Turnover Margin T-21st -4 T-21st
55 8th QB Hits Allowed N/A N/A N/A

QB Tom Brady (328/496 for 4,273 yds, 66.1%, 33 TDs, 11 INTs and a 106.0 QB Rating) is the undisputed starter and leader of the Patriots. Brian Hoyer and Rookie Ryan Mallett are the reserves and haven't been needed this year.

The Patriots Running game is lead by the hot hand. At the moment, the job belongs to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (161 Car, 618 yds, 3.8 avg, 8 TDs and 6 Rec, 74 yds). Danny Woodhead (65 Car, 286 yds, 4.4 avg and 15 Rec, 135 yds, 9.0 avg.), Rookie Stevan Ridley (48 Car, 231 yds, 4.8 avg, 1 TD), Kevin Faulk (16 Car, 56 yds, 3.5 avg. and 7 Rec, 34 yds) and Rookie Shane Vereen (15 Car, 57 yds, 3.8 avg. and 1 TD) fill out the rest of this serviceable but average unit.

New England's receiving corp is mainly a 3-headed monster. Wideout Wes Welker (100 Rec, 1,339 yds, 13.4 avg, 9 TDs) is the favorite target of Tom Brady. We'll get to the other two in a minute. Deion Branch (48 Rec, 665 yds, 13.9 avg, 4TDs) plays opposite Welker, but he is nursing a sore groin. Things drop off from there. Chad Ochocinco (13 Rec, 228 yds, 17.5 avg.) hasn't done much since coming to New England. Julian Edelman (3 Car, 2 yds and 3 Rec, 27 yds) and Tiquan Underwood (2 Rec, 17 yds) are the next available options. Matthew Slater (1 Rec, 46 yds), has been filling in at Safety with the injuries to the secondary.

The other two heads of the monster are Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski (71 Rec, 1,088 yds, 15.3 avg, 15 TDs and 1 Car, 2 yds, 1 TD) is a beast and Aaron Hernandez (59 Rec, 607 yds, 10.3 avg, 5 TDs) makes Brady's life easier as a 3rd big target. The Patriots run a lot of 2 Tight End sets and between these big guys and the speedy Welker, the fact that they are weak at Running Back doesn't slow them one bit because they have the 2nd ranked passing unit and are the 3rd best scoring Offense in the league.

The Patriots Offensive Line does a pretty good job keeping Tom Brady upright and when that fails, the referees usually step in. The starters against the Washington Redskins last week were LT Matt Light (1 False Start, 4 Hold, 2 Sacks Allowed), LG Logan Mankins (5 FS, 2 HLD, 4.5 SA) , C Nick McDonald (2 G, 0.5 SA), RG Brian Waters (1 FS, 2 HLD, 0.5 SA) and Rookie RT Nate Solder (4 Pen, 3 HLD, 2 SA) played in place of Sebastian Vollmer (1 FS. 3.5 SA). Ryan Wendell (1 G), Dan Connolly (1 HLD, 0.5 SA), Donald Thomas (1 FS), Rookie Marcus Cannon (4 G) and Danny Aiken C (13 G) make up the rest of the unit.

DEFENSE

This chart represents the Rankings for the Patriots Defense as compared to the Broncos Offense.

Patriots Broncos
Defense Rank Category Rank Offense Last Week
21.1 14th Points Against 21st 20.7 20th
416 32nd Total Yds 23rd 317.1 25th
308.7 32nd Pass Yds 31st 160.8 31st
107.3 13th Rush Yds 1st 156.2 1st
29 T-17th Sacks 14th Most 32 16th Most
7 T-30th Forced Fumbles N/A N/A N/A
18 T-2nd Interceptions T-5th Least 9 T-5th Least
44.8% 30th 3rd Downs 28th 31.8% 28th
15.00% 29th Overall DVOA 19th -1.50% 23rd
74/658 27th Penalties 16th 81/696 14th Most
N/A N/A QB Hits Allowed 6th 53 25th Most

The Patriots use a 4-3 Base look on Defense. The starting Defensive Linemen are LDE Brandon Deaderick (14 TKL, 1 SK), DT Vince Wilfork (43 TKL, 2.5 SK, 3 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF), DT Kyle Love (28 TKL, 2 SK) and RDE Andre Carter (52 TKL, 10 SK, 1 PD, 2 FF). Mark Anderson (19 TKL, 7 SK, 1 PD, 1 FF), LDE Shaun Ellis (10 TKL), Gerard Warren (9 TKL) and Ron Brace (3 TKL) are the reserves. Eric Moore was signed last week.

The starting Linebackers are OLB Rob Ninkovich (61 TKL, 4.5 SK, 4 PD, 2 INT, 1 TD), ILB Jerod Mayo (68 TKL, 1 FF, 3 PD, 2 INT) and OLB Gary Guyton (47 TKL, 1 PD,1 INT) who has started the last 5 games in place of Brandon Spikes (44 TKL, 1 PD). Tracy White (35 TKL, 1 PD), Dane Fletcher (18 TKL) and former Bronco Niko Koutouvides (12 TKL) make up the second unit.

The starting Cornerbacks are LCB Devin McCourty (71 TKL, 6 PD) and RCB Kyle Arrington (72 TKL, 12 PD, 7 INT). Antwaun Molden (28 TKL, 2 PD,1 INT) and former Bronco Nate Jones (10 TKL) are the other options.

The Strong Safeties are James Ihedigbo (56 TKL, 1 PD) and Sergio Brown (27 TKL, 1 PD, 1 INT). At Free Safety, Patrick Chung (55 TKL, 1 FF, 4 PD, 1 INT) is injured. WR/KR Matthew Slater (20 TKL, 1 FF) (11 ST TKL) made his first career start at Free Safety and had 7 Tackles and Forced a Fumble against the Colts in Week 13. This year's 7th round pick Malcolm Williams was a recent activation from the Practice Squad.


SPECIAL TEAMS

This chart represents the Rankings for both teams Special Teams Units.

Patriots Rank Special Teams Rank Broncos
46.1 T-11th Punt-Avg(Gross) 5th 47.7 6th
40.6 T-6th Punt-Avg (Net) 3rd 41.5 3rd
11.3 9th Punt Ret-Avg 3rd 13.5 3rd
8.9 13th PR-Avg Allowed 16th 9.4 14th
21.2 T-29th Kick Ret-Avg 2nd 27.8 3rd
21.7 7th KR-Avg Allowed 13rg 22.9 10th
22/26 T-13th FG Made/Att 30th 17/23 31st
3.00% 6th Overall DVOA 5th 3.70% 5th

The Kicker for the Patriots is Stephen Gostkowski, who is 22 for 26 (84.6%) in Field Goal Attempts in 2011. His longest this season was a 50-yarder and his career long is 53. Gostlowski has made all 46 Extra Point conversions. The average landing area on his Kickoffs is the 5 yard line. Stephen has 28 touchbacks in 81 Kickoffs (34.5%) and 50 have been returned an average of 21.7 yards.

The Punter and Holder for Place Kicks is Zoltan Mesko. Zoltan has punted 45 times for a gross average of 46.1 yards and a 40.6 Net. His longest for the year traveled 61 yards. Mesko has put 16 punts Inside the 20 yard line, 14 have been Fair Caught and 3 went for touchbacks. 21 of his punts have been returned for an 8.9 yard average.

The Long Snapper for New England is Rookie Danny Aiken (4 TKL). Aiken was claimed off the waiver wire and awarded to the Patriots after Buffalo cut him on Sept. 4th, 2011.

The Patriots main Punt Returner is Julian Edelman, who has 23 punt returns for an 11.7 yard average. He has called for a Fair Catch 6 times. Edelman's longest run back this year was a 72-yard return for a touchdown in Week 11 against the Chiefs. Wes Welker has returned 8 Punts an average of 10.3 yards.

There have been four Kick Returners for New England this season. Danny Woodhead (14 KR for a 20.8 avg.), Julian Edelman (12 KR, 23.7 avg.), Stevan Ridley (7 KR, 21.7 avg.) and Matthew Slater (3 KR, 18.0 avg.).

SERIES HISTORY

This is the 42nd all-time regular-season meeting between the two clubs.The Broncos hold a 25-16 advantage in the previous 41 meetings, including a 16-8 mark at home. The Broncos have won five of the last seven regular-season contests. The last time the teams played was on Oct. 11, 2009 with Denver overcoming a 17-7 halftime defecit for a 20-17 Overtime win at Invesco Field in the Josh McDaniels "Fist Pump" game.

The Patriots have played more games against the Broncos than any other team that has never been in New England's division and they are 1-4 all time at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, including the postseason.

The history between these teams dates back to the first days of the AFL in 1960. The Patriots played the Broncos in the inaugural game of each franchise, a 13-10 Denver win on Sept. 9, 1960 at Nickerson Field. They faced each other twice a year until the AFL-NFL merger, with the Patriots taking a 10-7 advantage out of those games.


QUICK HITS

  • Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is 3-6 against the Broncos with New England and 3-10 overall.
  • Broncos head coach John Fox is 1-2 against New England.
  • The Broncos are the only team the Patriots have lost to twice in the playoffs (1986 and 2005). New England's 13 other playoff losses have been to 13 different clubs.
  • In Belichick's only two wins at Denver (10/1/00 and 11/3/03) he took intentional safeties in the second half to help secure the win.
  • Kicker Stephen Gostkowski's longest field goal was a 53-yarder at Denver on Oct. 11, 2009.
  • Tom Brady is 1-5 against the Broncos in the regular season and 0-1 against Denver in the postseason following a 2005 AFC Divisional playoff loss in Denver.
  • Denver is the only team that Brady has a losing record against.
New England has now won 10 or more games 10 times in the last 11 seasons, including the last nine seasons, joining San Francisco (16) and Indianapolis (9) as the only teams to accomplish the latter.

The Wise Guys in Vegas have the Patriots favored by 6.5 points.


THE BOTTOM LINE

They're winning, but the Patriots aren't playing their best ball right now and even marginal Quarterbacks (see Rex Grossman last week) have been looking like Pro Bowlers against a banged up patchwork Defensive backfield. Still, the Patriots have a top flight Offense and can put up enough scoring to counteract their other deficiencies in their rushing attack. The question becomes, will we see a shootout or can the Broncos grind out a ball control win while keeping Tom Brady and company cooling on the bench Sunday? Either way, this will be one of the premiere games this weekend.


Go Broncos!


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