As they prepared for their 2017 season, had John Elway and Vance Joseph gone through all the worst-case scenarios, none of them would have been as bad as where the Denver Broncos are now.
Four straight losses by an average score of 31-13, and here comes Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots.
The Broncos are a stunning 7.5-point underdog at home for their game Sunday night at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High (kickoff 6:30, 9News).
Such times call for an adjustment. Rather than 9NEWS coming up with the usual 9 keys to the game, the Pats call for a more aggressive approach.
Here are 9 reasons why the Broncos can win:
Brady has struggled in Denver
Tom Brady is the NFL’s all-time winningest quarterback with 214 – 14 more than runner-up Peyton Manning. Yet, Brady is 7-9 lifetime against the Broncos, 3-7 in games played in Denver (counting playoffs). He and the Patriots did win here last year, 16-3. He has never won two in a row here.
The Broncos were embarrassed last week at Philadelphia. They are expected to give it their all Sunday night so they won’t be humiliated in front of their home crowd and won’t be shamed on national television (has it been mentioned the game can be seen on 9News?).
The past two seasons, the Broncos appeared to be a top 5 NFL team going into their bye week. Each time, they fell apart after their week off. The Patriots were hot going into their bye, winning four in a row. A week off can only cost them their edge. Don’t be surprised if they’re a little flat Sunday night.
The Broncos’ star pass rusher has had some of his best games against the Patriots. In eight games against them, he has 7.5 sacks, a fumble recovery return for a touchdown, and an interception.
With Pats’ right tackle Marcus Cannon out with an ankle injury, Miller is expected to face backup LaAdrian Waddle.
Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may counter with a conservative game plan that is heavy on the run and quick passes. But even if that plan neutralizes Miller, a low-scoring game could help the struggling Broncos’ offense keep up.
No Julian Edelman
In his past three regular-season games against the Broncos (2016, 2014, 2013), New England’s clutch receiver combined for 24 receptions, 274 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Patriots won all three.
Edelman suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. The Pats also won’t have another top receiver, Chris Hogan, who is out with a shoulder injury. The Denver defense can double cover tight end Rob Gronkowski, who probably will have a big game, anyway, but maybe not a monster game.
C.J. Anderson is healthy
The Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt went for 148 yards against the New England defense and the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon picked up 132 on just 14 carries. Other backs like the Saints’ Mark Ingram, Bucs’ Doug Martin and Falcons’ Devonta Freeman had nice games.
The 5.1 yard per rush allowed by the New England defense ranks No. 32 in the league.
Anderson, the Broncos’ lead back, has played well in his four games against the Pats, combining for 219 yards and two touchdowns off 37 carries (5.92 yards per attempt). Anderson was injured and didn’t play against New England last year.
Brock is back
The Patriots rank No. 32 in the league in pass defense, allowing 295.5 yards per game.
Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler has faced the Patriots three times the previous two seasons.
He played well in helping the Broncos defeat New England, 30-24, in overtime in a 2015 game played in Denver.
His Texans lost twice in Foxborough last year, but in a playoff game he threw a touchdown pass that brought Houston within, 14-13, midway through the second quarter.
Belichick is treating altitude as if it’s an opponent. Besides playing at 5,280 feet above sea level on Sunday night, Belichick will have his team spend next week practicing down the road at the Air Force Academy, where Falcon Stadium regularly boasts of its 6,621 feet of altitude. And then the Pats play the following week in Mexico City, where the altitude is 7,300 feet-plus, against the Raiders.
This special attention to altitude can constantly remind the players altitude is a serious challenge.
Brandon McManus wins kicking duel
In the Broncos’ lopsided defeat at Philly, McManus made field goals from 53, 52 and 24 yards. With his good leg swing back in business, he becomes an offensive threat as soon as the Broncos cross midfield.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski made four field goals in his previous game but he also missed twice from 43.