Tomorrow sees the 16th installment in the legendary rivalry between two of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game and as always there are high stakes when Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos go head to head against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
With the Patriots on a four game winning streak they have been resurgent after a slow start to the 2014 season but now find themselves at 6-2 after a 2-2 start and with a chance to place themselves in the first seed position for the playoffs if they manage to defeat Denver tomorrow. The Broncos are also on a 4 game winning streak so they will walk in to Gillette Stadium full of confidence especially having beaten the Patriots when the two teams last met in last seasons AFC Championship game.
That victory in January avenged the demons of a 34-31 comeback victory by Brady’s Patriots earlier in that season when New England rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to knock off the Broncos in their own back yard but with Denver’s 26-16 postseason victory a couple of months after that encounter just mentioned Manning tied his head to head postseason record against Brady to 2-2 all-time.
Unfortunately for Peyton history does suggest that the Patriots could well come out as the victors tomorrow with Brady holding a 10-5 all-time winning record over his old foe. With New England’s huge 51-23 win over Chicago last Sunday this team is slowly moving through the gears week by week and finding ways to win after winning a narrow one against the Jets 27-25 the week before and knocking off the Bills in their own backyard 37-22.
With a bye week next week for the Patriots a win tomorrow against Denver would set them up perfectly for their remaining 7 games and allow them to focus on their tough tasks ahead as they go in search of claiming home field advantage for the playoffs; something that would definitely benefit the Patriots if they have to play the Broncos in the postseason as taking Peyton Manning out of Mile High stadium would work huge favours for New England.
The most intriguing aspect of tomorrow’s matchup is the improved fortunes of both of these teams defenses and that is what makes this game a lot more interesting in comparison to the other meetings we’ve seen between these two teams in recent years. The Patriots may be without their best pass rusher in Chandler Jones but have made two additions at linebacker before the trade deadline this past Tuesday to cover for the season ending injury to Jerod Mayo and also possess the number one pass defense in the league.
|Manning vs Brady Round 16|
That will be put to the test by what many considering to be the most devastating offense in the NFL and one that has added a versatile running back to its armory in recent weeks to go along with the ridiculously effective passing game that Manning has going on in Denver. Peyton is tied with Andrew Luck for the most touchdowns in the league with 22 but has to just 3 interceptions to the third years 9. Manning’s efficiency will be vital to any success the Broncos want to have tomorrow especially going up against a Bill Belichick defense that thrives on forcing turnovers.
The Patriots are tied for 7th in the league with 10 forced fumbles and have recovered 8 which leaves them tied for 2nd in that category. They are also tied 8th in interceptions with 8 and 9th in sacks with 21 so you can tell that the Pats defense has been playing at a very high level. Star cornerback Darrelle Revis is back to his superstar best challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage and has locked down star studded wideouts such as AJ Green and Brandon Marshall along with rookie sensation Sammy Watkins in the first half of this season.
Add Revis to a secondary that includes the likes of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan along with the return of Brandon Browner who made a massive personal improvement last week against the Bears following his debut against the Jets and it is clear to see this team has talent. That is not even including the players at the front of the D such as Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork who are all key contributors to the success of this unit.
They in particular will need to step up in Chandler Jones’ absence who is arguably the Patriots best all round defensive player. As for the Broncos defense well they aren’t exactly slouches themselves after adding the likes of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward and Aqib Talib who left the Patriots for Denver this past offseason. Denver’s defense ranks high in key categories too; 6th in sacks with 23, 13th in interceptions with 7 but they are a lowly 31st in forced fumbles with 3 and just one recovery.
On paper despite Brady’s historical upper hand over Manning as well as the drastic improvements this Patriots offense has made week by week the Broncos offense is still edges that of New England and I feel that the outcome of this game will be decided by who wins out of the Patriots defense and Broncos offense when these two units go up against each other tomorrow.
As mentioned earlier Manning has 22 TD’s to just 3 picks and a host of weapons with the dynamic duo of Julius and Demaryius Thomas with the two having hauled in 15 of Peyton’s 22 scores this season. The other 7 are with Emmanuel Sanders who had 3 last week against the Chargers, 4 on the year, along with Jacob Tamme (2) and Wes Welker with just the one this season. Add that with running back Ronnie Hillman, he has broke on the scene in Montee Ball’s absence, who has 347 yards and 2 touchdowns in his past 4 games then you can begin to evaluate just how good this Denver offense is.
But as we know the Patriots offense is not looking too shabby either after fantastic performance after performance in October which ended with Tom Brady being announced AFC offensive Player of the month. Brady had a 129.1 passer rating, with 1,268 yards and 14 touchdowns in those 4 Patriots victories and personally I feel this has propelled him in to the MVP conversation along with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, DeMarco Murray and JJ Watt.
Brady completed 30 of 35 passing attempts for 354 yards and 5 touchdowns last week leaving him with a quarterback rating of 148.4. Rob Gronkowski had 9 catches for 149 receiving yards and 3 TD’s and has definitely got back to his devastating best as Gronk now has 7 touchdowns this season leaving him tied for 4th. Brandon LaFell has also built up fantastic rapport with Brady and has 4 touchdowns on the year with 1 last week hauling in 124 yards in the process.
Ever since that Monday Night meltdown against the Chiefs all Brady and co have done is prove the doubters wrong. Anyone who did doubt Tom Brady’s abilities is quite frankly an idiot but he did what any fantastic player does and that was silence his critics on the field. The change in fortunes has brought a breath of fresh air along with hope in New England. Brady now has 18 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions on the year which ranks him 5th only behind Manning, Luck, Rivers and Rodgers.
Now that the Patriots have solved offensive line issues and the offense is performing at a high level you would have to say they are one of the best teams in the league due to their all round talent on defense, offense and special teams. Despite the loss of Stevan Ridley on the ground Shane Vereen has continued to be a brilliant weapon for Brady in the running and passing game and is the type of versatile player that Brady and Belichick love.
Vereen has one rushing touchdown for 281 yards giving him a 4.8 average and two receiving touchdowns for 208 yards. Jonas Gray was added to the running game fold last week and put in an impressive debut with the big bodied back racking up 98 yards off 20 carries averaging 4.9 yards a carry. If he can continue to impress he will be the Patriots’ equivalent of Denver’s Ronnie Hillman and a well welcomed running game addition to a team that possess one of the most efficient passing games in the NFL.
Gronk (7), LaFell (4), Vereen (2), Amendola (1) and Tyms (1) are the recepients of Brady’s passing scores this year but the guy who has been particularly important to the improvements of the passing game is Gronks new tight end partner Tim Wright. He possesses the other 3 Brady touchdown scores and Wright’s addition to the offense has given Brady a new tight end duo threat to trouble opposing offenses which has given Brady and the Pats offense to get all of these offensive players mentioned involved.
The rewards are key to see and after analysing both Denver and New England’s offenses tomorrows game will be a mouth watering encounter especially as we know the quality of both sides defenses as well. Personally I feel this is the most exciting regular season game since the November 7th encounter in the 2007 season when the 8-0 Patriots faced off against Manning’s 7-0 Colts. Despite the quality of both offenses both defenses can force mistakes in the opposing offenses and that is why I feel that it will be a nail biting game for fans of both teams that will end in a close one. I will go out on a limb and say that the Patriots get a repeat of that close win back in 07 and triumph over the Broncos 24-20 setting up a thrilling race for the first seed position come playoff time!