2012 Divisional Preview: Denver vs. New England

This is the second of four posts this week examining the Divisional matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back during the next day for more previews:

Saturday’s second Divisional game (kicking off in just three hours) features the Broncos travelling across the country to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots on CBS. Led by Tebow’s best performance of the year last week, Denver stunned Pittsburgh to earn a trip to Foxboro. The Patriots, meanwhile, watched the Wild Card games from their homes, trying (and seeming to fail) to recover from a grueling season. New England and Denver faced each other once this year with the Pats ending the Bronco’s six-game winning streak by a convincing 41-23 scoreline. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Offense: Anyone else not believe in  Tim Tebow now? Sure, he still hasn’t proven himself as an NFL quarterback, but with God on your side, you don’t need NFL-caliber skills. Tebow threw for 316 yards last week including a 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to set up this week’s matchup with New England. Running back Willis McGahee struggled last year against a physical Pittsburgh defense, running for just 60 yards on 19 carries. While the Patriot’s defense is terrible, Tebow struggled at times in the teams’ first matchup this year and the Broncos turned the ball over three times. They must protect the ball with their lives if they want to have a chance tonight.

For New England, the offense starts with Tom Brady. Brady broke the single-season record for passing yards, only to come in second to Drew Brees this year in passing yards. Nevertheless, Brady had a tremendous year, though he turned the ball over at a slightly higher rate than in previous years. Wide receiver Wes Welker was Brady’s favorite target this year as the two connected 122 times for over 1500 yards. However, when the Pats enter the red zone, look for Brady to go to his next-favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski who caught 17 touchdown passes this year. On the ground, the Patriots use Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley to offer a different look, but this offense starts and ends with its start quarterback.

Defense: As good as the Pats are offensively, they are worse defensively. Only the Packers gave up more yards this year (by eight) than New England as the Patriots’ secondary struggled to stay healthy. Patrick Chung returned for the Pats’ final game of the year against Buffalo, but was back on the injury report yesterday. If he is unavailable, Tebow will have a much easier time picking apart New England’s secondary. Denver’s defense played a mediocre game against the Steelers last week, giving up 400 yards, including 156 on the ground, but also sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and forced an interception. The Broncos are going to need a terrific game from its defensive line if they want a chance to win this game. If they give Brady time in the pocket, it could be over early.

Special Teams: Special Teams had very little impact on Denver’s game last week as kicker Matt Prater converted all three of his field goals and Pittsburgh never had the opportunity to return a kickoff or punt. The Broncos will look for a repeat of that performance tonight. The Patriots lingered in the middle of the league in field goal percentage, kickoff returns and punt returns. The Patriots are going to hope Brady and company put this game away on the offensive side of the ball and special teams never plays a large part of the game.

Overall: Tebow has been a miracle worker all season but the Pats demolished him in the teams’ first meeting and that was in Denver. Going into a hostile stadium and performing in a pressure-filled game is nothing new to Tebow, but the Patriots in the playoffs will be the toughest football test he’s ever faced. I don’t see how he has the skills to stick with Brady and the Pats’ explosive offense. Combine that with the extra week off and the home field advantage and I see the Patriots winning this one pretty easily in the end:

New England 42 Denver 27


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