2012 NFL Playoffs: Denver Broncos at New England Patriots Playoff Preview

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 18: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos after the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 41-23. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The AFC East Champion New England Patriots will host the AFC West Champion Denver Broncos in a Divisional Playoff game this Saturday evening at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The winner will advance to the AFC Championship. Denver advanced to the 2nd round of the postseason tournament after defeating the Steelers in Overtime last Sunday. The Patriots clinched the division with a 41-23 victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 15. They are the #1 seed in the AFC for the second consecutive year.

Weather and Conditions


Saturday, Jan. 14. Kickoff for the game at Gillette Stadium is set for 6 p.m. MST. CBS will broadcast the game. Jim Nantz will do the play-byplay and Phil Simms has the color commentary for the 5th straight week.
Sct
Partly Sunny
Temperature: 11/35f.


The current weather conditions can be seen here.

Officiating the game will be Gene Steratore and his crew.

R Gene Steratore 114
U Schuster 129
HL Mackie 106
LJ Marinucci 107
FJ Waggoner 25
SJ Weatherford 116
BJ D. Paganelli 105
RA Weidner
VO Wimmer

Injuries and external factors

The Patriots lost 12 players to injured reserve this season. Eight of them from the Defense. Linemen Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Andre Carter 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.

OFFENSE


This chart represents the Rankings for the Patriots regular season Offense as compared to the Broncos Defense. The DVOA stat is taken from Football Outsiders and is explained here.

Patriots Broncos
Offense Rank Category Rank Defense
32.1 3rd Points For 24th 24.4
428 2nd Total Yds 20th 357.8
317.8 2nd Pass Yds 18th 231.5
110.3 20th Rush Yds 22nd 126.3
32 T-22nd Sacks 10th 41
N/A N/A Forced Fumbles 26th 11
12 T-5th Interceptions T-28th 9
45.90% 5th 3rd Downs 6th 33.50%
36.80% 3ed Overall DVOA 19th 6.40%
17 3rd Turnover Margin T-26th -12
71 21st QB Hits Allowed N/A N/A

QB Tom Brady (328/496 for 5,235 yds, 65.6%, 39 TDs, 12 INTs, 3 TDs rushing and a 105.6 QB Rating) is the undisputed starter for 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 BenJarvus Green-Ellis (181 Car, 667 yds, 3.7 avg, 11 TDs and 9 Rec, 159 yds ). Rookie Stevan Ridley (87 Car, 441 yds, 5.1 avg, 1 TD), Danny Woodhead (77 Car, 351 yds, 4.6 avg, 1 TD), Kevin Faulk (17 Car, 57 yds, 3.4 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 unit. The Fullback is Lousaka Polite (1 GM).

New England's Wide Receiving corp is made up of Wes Welker (122 Rec, 1,569 yds, 12.9 avg, 9 TDs) and Deion Branch (51 Rec, 702 yds, 13.8 avg, 5TDs). Chad Ochocinco (15 Rec, 276 yds, 18.4 avg, 1 TD), Danny Woodhead (18 Rec, 157 yds, 8.7 avg.), Julian Edelman (4 Car, 8 yds and 4 Rec, 34 yds), Tiquan Underwood (3 Rec, 30 yds) and Matthew Slater (1 Rec, 46 yds), who has been filling in at Safety, are the reserves.

Tight End's Rob Gronkowski (90 Rec, 1,327 yds, 14.7 avg, 17 TDs and 1 Car, 2 yds, 1 TD) and Aaron Hernandez (79 Rec, 910 yds, 11.5 avg, 7 TDs). 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 since 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 allowing Tom Brady the time he needs, but he still gets rattled when knocked down. The starters are LT Matt Light (1 False Start, 4 Hold, 3 Sacks Allowed), LG Logan Mankins (5 FS, 2 HLD, 5.5 SA) , C Dan Connolly (1 HLD, 1.5 SA) , RG Brian Waters (1 FS, 3 HLD, 0.5 SA) and RT Sebastian Vollmer (1 FS. 3.5 SA). Rookie Nate Solder (4 Pen, 3 HLD, 4 SA) backs up both Tackles. Ryan Wendell (1 HLD), Nick McDonald (4 G, 0.5 SA), Donald Thomas (1 FS, 1 SA), Rookie Marcus Cannon (7 G, 1 SA) and Danny Aiken (16 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
21.4 15th Points Against 25th 19.3
411.1 31st Total Yds 23rd 316.6
293.9 31st Pass Yds 31st 152.1
117.1 17th Rush Yds 1st 164.5
40 14th Sacks 9th 42
10 27th Forced Fumbles N/A N/A
23 2nd Interceptions T-8th fewest 13
43.10% 7th 3rd Downs 30th 30.80%
17.90% 30th Overall DVOA 23rd -5.10%
87/815 27th Penalties T-16th 101/842
N/A N/A QB Hits Allowed 24th 68

The Patriots use a 4-3 Base look on Defense. The starting Defensive Linemen are LDE Shaun Ellis (14 TKL, 1 SK), DT Vince Wilfork (52 TKL, 3.5 SK, 3 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF), DT Kyle Love (33 TKL, 3 SK) and RDE. Mark Anderson (29 TKL, 10 SK, 1 PD, 2 FF), Brandon Deaderick (17 TKL, 2 SK), Gerard Warren (12 TKL, 1 SK) and Ron Brace (4 TKL, 1 FF) are the reserves.

The starting Linebackers are OLB Rob Ninkovich (74 TKL, 6.5 SK, 4 PD, 1 FF, 2 INT, 1 TD), ILB Jerod Mayo (95 TKL, 1 SK, 1 FF, 4 PD, 2 INT) and OLB Brandon Spikes (47 TKL, 1 PD). Gary Guyton (47 TKL, 1 PD,1 INT), Tracy White (37 TKL, 1 PD), Dane Fletcher (32 TKL, 1 PD) and former Bronco Niko Koutouvides (14 TKL) make up the second unit.

The starting Cornerbacks are LCB Devin McCourty (87 TKL, 12 PD, 2 INT) and RCB Kyle Arrington (88 TKL, 13 PD, 7 INT). Antwaun Molden (36 TKL, 3 PD,2 INT) and former Bronco Nate Jones (19 TKL, 1 PD) are the other options.

The Strong Safeties are James Ihedigbo (69 TKL, 1 PD), Sergio Brown (37 TKL, 1 PD, 1 INT) and 7th round pick Malcolm Williams (2 G). The Free Safeties are Patrick Chung (64 TKL, 1 SK, 4 PD, 1 INT), Matthew Slater (24 TKL, 1 FF) and Sterling Moore (7 TKL, 2 PD, 2 INT, 1 TD).


SPECIAL TEAMS

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

Patriots Rank Special Teams Rank Broncos
46.5 9th Punt-Avg(Gross) 6th 47.4
41.5 3rd Punt-Avg (Net) 8th 40.2
10.3 16th Punt Ret-Avg 3rd 12.7
8.5 13th PR-Avg Allowed 19th 11.5
21.4 29th Kick Ret-Avg 11th 24.5
21.6 27th KR-Avg Allowed 12th 24.6
28/33 12th FG Made/Att 27th 19/25
3.70% 5th Overall DVOA 15th 0.50%

The Kicker for the Patriots is Stephen Gostkowski, who is 28 for 33 (84.8%) in Field Goal Attempts. His longest this season is a 50-yarder and his career long is 53. Gostkowski has made all 59 Extra Point conversions. The average landing area on his Kickoffs is the 5 yard line. Stephen has 41 touchbacks in 103 Kickoffs (39.8%) and 59 have been returned an average of 21.6 yards.

The Punter and Holder for Place Kicks is Zoltan Mesko. Zoltan has punted 57 times for a gross average of 46.5 yards and a 41.5 Net. His longest for the year traveled 65 yards. Mesko has put 24 punts Inside the 20 yard line, 18 have been Fair Caught and 3 went for touchbacks. 26 of Mesko's punts have been returned for an 8.5 yard average.

The Long Snapper for New England is Rookie Danny Aiken (5 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 28 punt returns for an 10.7 yard average and signaled for a Fair Catch 7 times. His longest run back this year was a 72-yard return for a touchdown in Week 11 against the Kansas City 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 has 20 returns for a 21.9 average. Julian Edelman (12 KR, 23.7 avg.) , Stevan Ridley (7 KR, 21.7 avg.) and Matthew Slater (4 KR, 17.0 avg.).



BY THE NUMBERS


2 -- The number of Interceptions by Vince Wilfork in 2011. Anthony Pleasant (2001) is the only other Patriots Defensive Lineman to record two INTs in the same season.


3 -- The number of NFL players with four 100-reception seasons. Wes Welker (122) reached 100 receptions in 2011 to join Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.


4 -- The number of times LB Jerod Mayo has reached 100 Tackles to start his career. He is the first player in New England history to register 100 Tackles in his first four NFL seasons.


7 -- The number of Interceptions for CB Kyle Arrington. This puts him in a three-way tie for the NFL lead in 2011.


8 -- The number of times in NFL history a player reached 1,000 yards in the 9th game of the season. Wes Welker achieved this milestone in 2011.


9 -- The number of AFC East titles by the Patriots since the 2000 season.


10.0 -- The number of sacks by Andre Carter in 2011 for his fourth career 10-plus sack season. Andre was placed on Injured Reserve December 20th with a Quad injury.


10.0 -- The number of sacks by Mark Anderson in 2011 for his second career 10-plus sack season.


17 -- The number of touchdown catches by TE Rob Gronkowski, the most in NFL history by a Tight End in a single season.


18 -- The number of total touchdowns by TE Rob Gronkowski in 2011 (16 rec. and 1 rush.) the highest number of combined touchdowns by a Tight End in NFL history.


122 -- The number of receptions in 2011 by Wes Welker. With 122 in 2011 and 123 in 2009, Welker joins Cris Carter as the only two NFL players with at least 120-plus receptions twice in their career.


1,327 -- The number of receiving yards by Gronkowski in 2011 to set an NFL record, surpassing Kellen Winslow in 1980 (1,290).


SERIES HISTORY


This matchup will be the third postseason meeting between the two teams and the first in New England. The Patriots are 0-2 against Denver in the postseason after AFC Divisional round losses in 1986 and 2005. Both of those games were played in Denver.

New England traveled to Denver on Dec. 18, 2011 and overcame a 16-7 deficit to beat Denver, 41-23.


Bill Belichick vs. Denver, 4-10 (4-6 with New England). John Fox vs. New England, 1-3 overall.


Tom Brady is 2-5 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.


Since their state-of-the-art facility opened at the beginning of the 2002 season, the Patriots own the NFL's best record at home overall. The Patriots own an overall record of 67-13 (.838) at Gillette Stadium in regular season games and a 74-15 (.831) record including playoffs.


The Patriots are 11-3 at home in the playoffs in their history. Thirteen of the franchise's 14 home playoff games have taken place since Robert Kraft purchased the team 18 years ago. After Kraft bought the team, the Patriots won 11 consecutive home playoff games before experiencing a home loss.


The Wise Guys in Vegas have the Patriots favored by 13.5 points


THE BOTTOM LINE


Well it all comes down to this--Win and continue, or lose and go home. Can Tim Tebow raise his game and will his teammates to victory over long odds once again? The Patriots will make for a tougher task than Pittsburgh did last week. I know I'm not ready for the Broncos season to end yet. This ride has been too exciting to get off now.


Go Broncos!



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