The New England Patriots hit the road for a place that hasn’t been too kind to them over the years.
But if they come out on top in Denver, they’ll be rewarded with their eighth straight division title (the longest streak in NFL history) and their seventh straight first-round bye.
Admittedly, Tom Brady has had trouble in Denver. He’s just 2-7 in the mile high air, including the playoffs. But he’s also playing some of the best football of his career, believe it or not.
Since Week 5, Brady ranks second in the NFL in touchdowns (22), yards per game (320) and yards per attempt (8.5), according to ESPN Stats.
And we saw last week, unlike in years past, he’s working on adding new weapons to his favorites list. Brady hit newbies Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Martellus Bennett for touchdowns against the Ravens, while throwing for 406 yards in the process.
That’s without Rob Gronkowski, a player that before these new additions the Patriots were doomed without.
Brady will look to continue his age-defying season with another MVP-like performance in a place that has given him many more bad memories than good ones.
Denver has an offense, too
The Patriots defense will have its hands full with one of the tougher wide receiver duos in the league, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Don’t forget, the Patriots were interested in signing Sanders when he was a free agent a couple years ago, so they like what they see. This year, Sanders (958) and Thomas (925) are on their way to 1,000 receiving yards. Both players also torched the Pats back in 2014 for a combined 278 yards. Since then, the Pats have done better. While Sanders was still effective in two games last season, Thomas was held to a total of three receptions for 48 yards. Credit Logan Ryan for the job well done on Thomas. Now both he and Malcolm Butler, along with the rest of the secondary, will look to do it again with Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Butler is dealing with a hip injury that limited him at practice this week, so that’s something to watch.
All eyes on Miller and company
Tom Brady probably has the best case for MVP out of everybody, but there is another candidate on the other side of the ball on Sunday. Von Miller is an absolute force and you can bet that extra attention will be paid to him. If not, Brady will find himself on the ground way more than anybody in New England wants to see. Miller has 13.5 sacks this season, tied for the most in the NFL. According to sportingcharts.com, Miller also has 29 quarterback hurries, second most in the NFL. It’s not all just one guy, though. Don’t forget Derek Wolfe all over Brady in last year’s AFC Championship Game, and DeMarcus Ware is still a problem. But credit must be given to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and his guys for the job they’ve done this season. This one will be tough.
Big game for Blount
A quick look at the numbers will tell you why LeGarrette Blount is once again important on Sunday. A week after playing the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL, the Patriots play the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. The Broncos allow just 183.5 yards in the air per game. But what they don’t allow in the air, they allow on the ground, ranking 29th in rushing defense by giving up 127.2 yards per game. Blount already has a career-high 1,029 rushing yards and has tied a franchise record with 14-rushing touchdowns. He will be ready to answer the call.