By Gregory Hunt
One month ago, it seemed as if Sunday night's upcoming game at Sports Authority Field between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos might be a match-up between undefeated teams led by future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But while the Patriots are now 10-0 with Brady still at the helm, the Broncos have lost two games and Manning is currently sidelined by an injury. Nevertheless, this is still a game that will determine playoff seeding in January.
The Broncos hold an 8-2 record, three games ahead of the 5-5 Kansas City Chiefs for first place in the AFC West. Denver won its first seven games of the season before suffering back-to-back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Chiefs. Afterwards, quarterback Brock Osweiler was named the starter for last week's game against the Chicago Bears, and he led the team to a 17-15 victory.
The Broncos first played the Patriots in the inaugural game of the American Football League on Sept. 9, 1960, when Denver defeated the then-Boston Patriots 13-10 at Boston University's Nickerson Field. Denver leads the all-time series 28-21, including a 3-1 lead in the playoffs. Denver's lead in the series was largely built during the John Elway era, as the quarterback went 11-0 against the Patriots from 1983-1998. The teams met last season on November 2, with New England earning a 43-21 win at Gillette Stadium.
Broncos on Offense
Merely two years after scoring an NFL-record 606 points in a season (37.9 points per game), the Broncos offense is now struggling. The team is averaging only 22.2 points per game, which ranks 19th in the NFL. Manning is out of action due to a partially torn plantar fascia that wasn't disclosed until after a four-interception performance against the Chiefs that got him pulled from the game.
Osweiler has played well since replacing Manning. He led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a comeback attempt against the Chiefs, and he played efficiently in the victory against the Bears when Denver avoided giving up an interception in a game for the first time all season. Because there isn't a lot of video footage of Osweiler in action, this may work to his advantage on Sunday because New England coaches will have difficulty identifying his tendencies.
Broncos on Defense
Denver's defense is the best in the NFL. Period. This unit is the only reason the Broncos started the season with a seven-game winning streak despite the team's deficiencies on offense. Denver is the only team in the NFL that is giving up fewer than 300 yards per game. The Broncos are giving up only 18.3 points per game, which is second to New England's 18.2. Denver also leads the league in sacks with 34, two more than New England.
"Good football team. Very good defensively," said New England head coach Bill Belichick during a Tuesday conference call. "They've got an outstanding front, a lot of disruptive players there both inside and outside. Real good edge players. They get a lot of pressure from their down guys."
Broncos Players to Watch
Denver's Demaryius Thomas isn't the biggest wide receiver in the league, but he's capable of making big plays. Thanks to Manning's struggles, his statistics aren't as impressive this year, but he's accumulated at least 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.
Linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are as scary a twosome as you'll see in the NFL. Both are speedy, physical players, and they've combined for 12½ sacks and three forced fumbles despite Ware missing three games, including the last two, due to back pain. Ware did not participate in practice on Tuesday, but given the importance of this upcoming game, he'll do everything he can to play in it.
This may be a low-scoring contest. On Monday night, an injury-depleted New England offense struggled to score 20 points at Gillette Stadium against a talented Jets defense, and now the Patriots will be going on the road against a Denver defense that's even better. Even though the Broncos are without Manning, this is a very lose-able game for New England. This will be a test of how far this team can go with so many missing parts on offense.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
for more features.