Patriots vs. Broncos preview: 3 things to watch for

Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones looks to knock down a Peyton Manning pass in 2012. Credit: Getty Images

Was it catchable? We’ll never know.

The Patriots aren’t talking about last week, and neither are anyone else, anymore.

It’s all eyes on the 9-1 Denver Broncos, who head to Foxboro for a Sunday night matchup (8:30, NBC) that will pit Tom Brady against Peyton Manning for the 14th time in their careers. Both Brady and Manning-led teams are fighting for a top seed in the AFC as usual, so most won’t have much of a problem staying awake for this one.

Welcome back Wes
After sustaining a concussion in last Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, there was initial concern that Wes Welker would miss this Sunday’s showdown with his former team. But it appears Welker will be OK to play for the game, according to reports. That’s good news for all parties, as Broncos fans want him in there, Patriots fans most likely want to see him return, and he undoubtedly wants to “stick it” to Bill Belichick and the Pats after their low-ball offer in the offseason. Welker has had a great season for Denver, making 61 catches (team-high) for 648 yards and nine touchdowns. You can bet he’ll be a huge part of the Broncos’ game-plan, but Belichick knows him better than any coach, so the matchup will be fun to watch.

The V-factor
Much like the Patriots were without a real tight end until Rob Gronkowski returned a few weeks ago, they were without a real third-down back until Shane Vereen returned last week. Vereen gives the Pats offense a boatload of versatility. While he only had one rush against the Panthers, he did have eight receptions for 65 yards. He also figures to see an even bigger role as the weeks go on.

“I think the best part is he really understands the importance and magnitude of that role and takes a lot of pride in it,” Tom Brady said of Vereen. “So, it’s a hugely important part of our offense.”

With Vereen, Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola all back healthy, the Pats offense hasn’t been this strong all season. That’s a hard thing to accomplish 12 weeks into a season, when players are usually going down this time of year (see: Patriots defense).

Brady vs. Manning
No, the two quarterbacks technically aren’t going up against each other – they’ll leave the defense to handle that part. But the rivalry between Brady and Manning has been perhaps the best personal rivalry between two superstars in any sport in the 21st century. Who’s better? Who holds the edge? Well that depends who you ask. Brady has three rings to Manning’s one, but Manning has many more passing yards and touchdowns, and just edges Brady in passer rating by a point. In the head-to-head battle, Brady leads, 9-4 (including 2-1 in postseason).


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