Over the past several weeks, NFL analysts, pundits, bloggers and everyday fans have witnessed the Denver Broncos rise as they piled win upon win and offensive and defensive rankings, while demoralizing opponents. Throughout this rise, those same individuals remained focused on one team as the most probable in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots.
No doubt the Patriots embarrassed the Indianapolis Colts and drubbed the Houston Texans, both playoff teams. But if you look at the quality of opponents the Pats have faced, they lost to the only other three good teams they have played after the Broncos: the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks. Every other game on their schedule was against bottom feeders that had a combined 39-72-1 record. No wonder why they were first in total offense.
These same folks have been asking the same question each week as the season has come to a close: Can the Broncos beat the Patriots. I am not trying to get ahead of the playoff games, but I believe it should be the other way around, being that the Patriots have not had a good history in the Mile High City, where they have only won three times in nine tries since 1996.
What the Pats will see in the playoffs, if they and the Broncos are lucky to have that match up, is not the same team that they saw back on October 7th, a game in which they won, 31-21. These Broncos have matured. This team has completely bought into what head coach John Fox, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and Peyton Manning have all sold. This team also has leaders on both sides of the ball that are on a mission.
What everyone thought would take a while to matriculate on the field, has done just that, and the results became the only team in the NFL with a top five offense and defense, and a group of 53 men that refuse to quit. Manning is the leader and he has taken two young wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and made them dangerous weapons that need to be accounted for. The Patriots 29th ranked defense against the pass will have a difficult time with the Broncos no-huddle, spread offense this time around, as timing will not be an issue.
The run game has been solid, and even though the Pats finished the season with a 9th ranked run defense, if you ask me, the Broncos would love to just meet their average of 101.9 yards allowed, which would be enough to secure a win. In the last meeting, remember that the Broncos were down 31-7, before the offense and defense started to click, and Manning led his team back to within a score before Willis McGahee’s fumble stopped momentum.
That will be the difference in the next match up if there is one. The Broncos have learned to limit their mistakes, and they are playing the crispest football of any club in the league. That is where the Patriots and Tom Brady need to be extremely careful. This is not the Broncos of week 5, the last time they lost a game. This is not the Tim Tebow Broncos of a year ago when Bill Belichek and Brady orchestrated a 45-10 annihilation in the playoffs.
This is a Broncos team that believes they can beat anyone, and have shown that they can do it through an 11 game win streak. And now all opponents have to come to Sports Authority Field at Mile High in order to prove otherwise. So can the Patriots beat the Broncos this time around? Well, if there is a re-match, then let me just say this: I am not going to put my money against a man on such a mission that Manning is on in 2012.
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