In order to make the postseason, the Broncos have to win their next three games and get some help from other teams along the way. Standing in their way this weekend is the New England Patriots who are 3-11 on the season and dead last in the AFC East. They have the worst scoring offense in the NFL and an above-average defense. They also have a lot of injuries to key players who will be out for Sunday’s matchup.
Can the Broncos do enough to secure a must-win victory on Christmas Eve? Let’s take a deeper dive into the Patriots and analyze what Broncos Country should keep their eye on during this pivotal matchup.
The three players the Patriots are listing as out for Sunday night’s game in Denver:— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 22, 2023
RB Rhamondre Stevenson, Ankle
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ankle⁰ S Jabrill Peppers, Hamstring
2022 New England Patriots Review
The Patriots ended their 2022 campaign with an 8-9 record for a third-place finish in the AFC East. Offensively, they ranked 17th in points scored and 26th in total yards. Defensively, they ranked 11th in points and 8th in yardage allowed. It’s safe to say they have become a lot worse this season compared to last year.
2023 Offseason Moves and Acquisitions
The Patriots made several additions in the offseason. Their most notable was signing JuJu Smith-Schuster to bolster their wide receiving corps. Unfortunately, he hasn’t produced like they had hoped and will be inactive due to injury this weekend against the Broncos.
They had twelve picks in the 2023 NFL Draft and a handful of them have become solid contributors or starters early on in their NFL careers. It’s a young team that is asking a lot of its rookie class to have success. It will definitely be interesting to see how this group pans out over the next several seasons. Truth be told, it has the potential to be one of the better drafts of any team from 2023.
The Patriots Offensive X-Factor: Ezekiel Elliot, RB
A lot of New England’s “top-flight” contributors on offense (which ranks last in the NFL) are out for Sunday’s game. I thought about putting Bailey Zappe here, but gave the nod to the long-time NFL running back.
To date, Elliot has amassed around 800 all-purpose yards for the Patriots this season and will likely be a focal point of their offense with Rhamondre Stevenson out with injury. I’d expect him to get a major workload to help take pressure of Zappe and help establish the running game. I don’t think most people expect Zappe to beat the Broncos through the air.
Vance Joseph’s defense has been suspect against the run all year long, but game-planning for Zeke should be quite obvious and I expect them to do much better in the trenches defensively compared to last week’s debacle in Detroit.
The Patriots Defensive X-Factor: Christian Barmore, DL
It’s hard to pinpoint a defensive standout on a 3-11 team, but defensive lineman Christian Barmore leads all Patriot trench defenders with nearly 63-percent of snaps played throughout the year. He has impressed and leads the Patriots defense with 5.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 9 tackles for loss. He is also one of the reasons their defense has been good at limiting opponents rushing attacks.
If the Broncos want to jump start their rushing attack this weekend and do better than they did last week, limiting Barmore’s impact is a must. This is a player you will want to keep an eye on during the game for sure.
Christian Barmore's become a true nightmare to deal with. Tbh he's played All-Pro ball since around Week 6— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) December 22, 2023
The stats speak for themselves, but his impact goes well beyond numbers
He's relentless, can clog lanes with his sheer presence, and consistently overpowers grown men pic.twitter.com/N0RANPmPGH
How the Broncos secure victory on Christmas Eve
As noted earlier, the Patriots offense is the worst in the NFL. Vance Joseph’s defense needs to get after Bailey Zappe, who replaced Mac Jones as their starting quarterback. They must generate a lot of pressure on the young quarterback.
Force him into mistakes and causing some turnovers will be a recipe for success. It’s important to note that they will be down Rhamondre Stevenson and JuJu Smith-Schuster on offense. With that in mind, this should theoretically be an easy rebound game for Joseph’s defense which struggled immensely on the road in Detroit against the Lions.
On the flip side, the Broncos offense needs to get their act together. The Patriots have a pretty good defense against the run but are susceptible to giving up big plays against the pass. In my opinion, the next three games are an audition for Russell Wilson to make his case to be on the Broncos beyond this season.
No more excuses, no more average play, it’s time for Wilson to cook and unleash an aerial assault against the Patriots who have several injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Look for the Broncos to test the Patriots deep. I’d expect a lot of targets for Courtland Sutton and for Jerry Jeudy and Marvin Mims to get involved as well. It’d finally be nice to see a cohesive and consistent effort on offense.