The New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos at Foxboro Stadium in a rematch of last seasonâs AFC Championship Game. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. and will be televised on CBS with their top announcing crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call.
The Patriots (6-2) have won four in a row and steamrolled the Chicago Bears 51-23 last week as Tom Brady threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski came thru huge for the offense catching 9 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
The Patriots defense led by Darrelle Revis, did a great job of limiting the many weapons of the Bears offense, holding Brandon Marshall to just three catches for 35 yards.
The Broncos (6-1) have also won four in a row since their overtime loss to Seattle and last week dominated a very good San Diego team at home 35-21. Peyton Manning has been outstanding thus far in 2014, tossing 22 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions.
The defense has been stellar, leading the league in rush defense allowing only 72.4 yards per game while boasting arguably the best pair of edge rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. The duo have combined for 16 sacks in the first seven games.
We here atÂ PatsFans.comÂ are continuing our Â âRazorâs EdgeâÂ column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots and Broncos have met a total of 48 times in their history dating back to the AFLâs first game in 1960 with Denver holding a 28-20 advantage in those contests. The Patriots have the edge at home holding a slight 11-9 advantage over Denver. The teams met twice in 2013 with the Patriots winning a 34-31 OT November tilt in Foxboro and the Broncos winning the AFC Championship Game 26-16 in Denver in January.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razorâs Edge.
Patriots RBs vs Broncos Front Seven- Razorâs Edge Broncos
As we mentioned above, the Broncos have been outstanding at stopping the run allowing less than 75 yards per game. The middle of the defensive line with Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams are excellent at stuffing the middle. Runs to the perimeter have gotten little as the Broncos flow to the ball with a faster more athletic team than they had in 2013.
The Patriots are still feeling their way around the loss of Stevan Ridley who blew out his MCL and ACL in Buffalo a few weeks ago. Shane Vereen and rookie James White are more of a third down back than a road grader in the backfield. The team promoted Jonas Gray from the practice squad and he turned in a nice 17 carry, 86 yard performance against the Bears. Gray is big, physical and runs the ball hard between the tackles.
Going to be tough sledding against this group, look for FB James Develin to get some work trying to stay balanced in the run game. Also look for the team to try some mis-direction to get something going. With play-action passing so important to the offense, the team must stay patient with the running game this week.
Patriots WRs vs Broncos Secondary-Razorâs Edge Patriots
After an abysmal September, the Patriots passing offense with Tom Brady has taken off in October as Rob Gronkowski has returned to health and energized the team.
Brady has also found a comfort level with new WR Brandon LaFell who has become a much bigger piece of the passing game. LaFell had career highs in catches (11) and yards (124) against the Bears last week. LaFell joins the reliable Gronkowski and Julian Edelman as Brady averaged over 317 yards passing in the past four games.
Denverâs secondary is much improved with the additions of CB Aqib Talib and Safety T.J. Ward this season, to go along with the underrated CB Chris Harris. But the strength of the unit is the pass rush with Ware and Miller who can quickly kill drives with pressure from the edge.
As we pointed out here in our All-22 focus, the only potential weakness of the Broncos defense is down the middle with Gronkowski and perhaps TE Tim Wright (7 rcpts, 61 yards TD last wk) in more of a 2-TE look this week. There was some talk this week that Talib would slide over to cover Gronkowski, similar to like he did last season when with the Patriots covering Saints TE Jimmy Graham. That should be interesting to monitor.
Protection is the key once again, if the Patriots give Brady time to throw, heâll find ways to get the offense moving and scoring as this offense has been hot in the last month.
Broncos RBs vs NE Front Seven-Â Razorâs Edge Broncos
The Broncos Ronnie Hillman who took over for the injured Montee Ball in the backfield has ignited the running game bringing an element of speed to the attack that wasnât there before. Hillman isnât the biggest guy at 5â10, 195 but he can get to the edge quickly and cut back against the grain which makes him particularly effective against the sub-packages the Denver offense usually faces.
The Patriots have had issues with their run defense all season. With the season ending loss of Jerod Mayo and the injury to Chandler Jones which will keep him out for at least a month it makes it even tougher. It will be interesting to see how the team uses DT Alan Branch who was just signed this week, if he plays at all. But the team must improve its tackling which has been sub-par thru most of the season.
Facing probably mostly sub-package looks to counter Manning, Hillman should have a productive game on Sunday. With a solid offensive line, look for Denver to take advantage of the lighter looks theyâll face right up the middle.
Broncos WRs vs NE Secondary- Razorâs Edge Broncos
Manning has a plethora of weapons that he can bring to bear in the passing game. DeMaryius Thomas and new teammate Emmanuel Sanders each have 47 catches on the season. Tight end Julius Thomas has nine touchdown catches and is a matchup problem for defenses taxed to the limit. Wes Welker remains in the slot and gives Manning his outlet safety valve.
New England has been very good against the pass this season allowing only 210.9 yards per game, good for second in the league. The team upgraded the secondary with the additions of CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. These moves can be specifically tracked to face teams like the Broncos; this week theyâll get the chance to do so.
The problem has been an inconsistent pass rush, now even more magnified with the loss of Jones, the teamâs best pass rusher. In the ever-changing chess match of matchups, weâll probably see Revis and DeMaryius Thomas as well as Julius Thomas matched up with Browner. Thatâs where things get interestingâŚ
Kyle Arrington is best in the slot which means heâd draw Welker which would leave Sanders with either Alfonzo Dennard or Logan Ryan. Thereâs your mismatch if you are Manning.
From a Patriots perspective, theyâll have to play tight press coverage and contest everything in the short and intermediate area. That will throw off the timing of Manning and his wide receivers. Of particular interest there are those short crossing routes that Manning excels on, (158.3 QB rating) which defeats the press.
Theyâll have to create pressure rushing only four as Manning like Brady annihilates blitzes and challenge the Broncos to throw deep. This should be a fun matchup to watch with all the new pieces in place on both teams.
Special Teams- Razorâs Edge Patriots
This will be a key area to watch as the Patriots STs units have been playing well. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been superb, his only FG this season occurring on a bad snap. Ryan Allen is turning in a solid season with a 46.2 yard average. Danny Amendola has given a boost to the Pats moribund kick return unit and Julian Edelman last week broke a punt return 42 yards to set the team up in the red zone.
Denver has Brandon McManus handling the kicking duties this season and hasnât been asked to do much as the team has been very good at putting the ball in the end zone. Britton Colquitt is a solid punter with a 45.2 average and no touchbacks. Their coverage units have been solid.
This one should be another classic Manning â Brady matchup with the winner taking control of the AFCâs top seed. This marks only the third game on the road for the Broncos who opened with five or their first seven at home.
Homefield advantage is huge here, if this game were in Denver, Iâd take the Broncos easily but Gillette has been a huge safety blanket for Brady and Belichick. The keys from a Patriots perspective is they have to, have to, have to (did I say have to?) play mistake free football. They canât have any turnovers in this one and expect to beat the Broncos.
On the flip side, they will need to get a turnover or two and perhaps a big play of STs similar to what they did last season. With both offenses operating at a high rate, this one should have plenty of fireworks. The one thing that may tip the scales is the absence of Jones. Without him the Patriots may not generate enough pressure on Manning to force an early throw or an interception. Denver wins a thriller 28-27
Patriots Player to Watch-Â Darrelle Revis
Last week was a tour-de-force for the Patriots newest and best addition to the defense. He blanketed Brandon Marshall and kept him bottled up all day and even turned in an interception late in the first half.
This week he faces the uber-talented DeMaryius Thomas and the national spotlight will be on. No one has been more scrutinized and under-appreciated this season than Revis, who has been excellent. Every minor catch has been talked about in detail on Twitter as if he isnât supposed to allow a single catch.
The Patriots defensive philosophy this season has been to limit the big play in the passing game. To date they are the only team that hasnât allowed a 40 yard pass play in 2014 and Revis has been a big part of that. Sunday will be the teamâs biggest test and heâll be looked to first.