For the second time this season, Patriots' fans were talking about a controversial call (or non-call) that ended the game. That being said, the Patriots were still outplayed by the Carolina Panthers on Monday night 24-20. For the first time in 39 games, New England's defense could not force a turnover as Cam Newton threw the game winning touchdown in the final minute of the game. The Patriots could not score touchdowns in the red zone on two separate occasions that cost them as well as the last play of the game. Now, New England is 7-3 and trying to avoid back-to-back losses against a familiar foe and a team with the best record in the AFC.
Yes, I am talking about Peyton Manning and the 9-1 Denver Broncos. Denver is coming off of a tough AFC West divisional win against the previously unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. For Manning, it has been a historic season for him so far with 34 touchdowns this season. The offense has averaged about 40 points per game this season. 9 of Manning's 34 touchdowns have gone to former Patriot Wes Welker. Welker makes his return Sundaynight to Foxboro as he has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion last week. Denver has gone thru adversity this season with a struggling defense and the absence of John Fox as head coach. Fox is recovering from heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has filled in for him the last two games.
Here are my three keys to Sunday night's (8:30 ET, NBC) showdown in Foxboro:
No Show for Knowshon?: When you talk about Peyton Manning, it is always about his wide receivers. Coming into the season, Denver was searching for a number one running back to complement Manning. This year, Knowshon Moreno has come into the limelight for Denver. Moreno is third in the NFL in touchdowns this year with 8. However, Moreno has made of a contribution in the passing game. Denver has had injuries with the offensive line this season, including left tackle Ryan Clady being out for the season. Manning, so far, has only been sacked 13 times this season (4 against the Colts). Moreno is the checkdown guy for Manning considering he has averaged six receptions in his last four games. In the cold, look for Moreno to “warm up” the offense.
The Replacement: Numerous times, Danny Amendola has been asked this week about being Welker's replacement. Amendola has had an injury plagued season, but this is the game where Tom Brady may try to showcase him against a Broncos defense that has struggled to defend the pass. Amendola has ten combined catches in his last two games. If Denver puts most of its attention on Gronkowski, Amendola and Aaron Dobson (3 touchdowns in his last 3 games) could see some targets and receptions on the outside. The question is will Brady try to force passes in to Amendola, which could lead to crucial interceptions.
Pressure On Peyton: The Patriots' defense has been ravaged by injuries this season, including the front seven. Now, with the possiblity of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard not playing, the Patriots' secondary could get lit up like a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. The Patriots have to sack Peyton Manning and that is on Chandler Jones. Jones has been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL this season (9.5 sacks) and has five sacks in his last four games.
If the Patriots are going to win this game, they will need to win the battle of time possession. Last week, they only had seven drives against the Panthers, yet still scored 20 points. Stevan Ridley has to get the football this week despite his fumbling issues because of his dynamic rushing ability. That being said, I think the Broncos are the best team in the AFC right now. Plus, the Patriots are too banged up in the secondary to stop #18 from picking them apart to all his different wide receivers. Tom Brady will make plays, but unlike the Patriots, the Broncos seem to score touchdowns when they get in the red zone. This is a historic game preview at Foxboro Blog. I have the Patriots losing the game and by the largest deficit I've predicted in four years.
BRONCOS 38 PATRIOTS 27