Last year, Peyton Manning was still figuring out how to be a Denver Broncos player, while the New England Patriots were one of the best teams in the NFL. Right now, Tom Brady is the inferior quarterback on the inferior team, hoping that a perfect home record will be enough to give them something of an advantage.
The Brocnos are coming off their biggest win of the season: 27-17 over the Kansas City Chiefs, meaning there are no more undefeated teams, and the Broncos are once again the best team in the NFL in the ever changing power rankings.
The Patriots? They lost 26-20 to a limited Carolina Panthers team, yet once again showed that they can be bullied by a physical defense. Tom Brady doesn’t handle getting hit as well as he used to. It hurts his accuracy (58.7% this season) and his ability to avoid interceptions, already throwing 7 this season, including one against the Panthers.
Beyond all the mythology of the Brady – Manning meetings, there’s also the weather to consider. However, while Manning used to be a dome quarterback in Indianapolis, things are just as bad in Devner as they are in the Northeast. The suggestion that Brady’s experience in bad weather and superior record will mean something is reading the map wrong. The Colts beat the Patriots in the snow when they became the better team, not to mention currently having the better quarterback.
A big thing to focus on is the health of Manning receivers. Wes Welker suffered a concussion in the loss to the Chiefs, while tight end Julius Thomas left that game with a knee injury. Both are healthy to play, but it won’t be surprising to see them in a lessened capacity compared to most games they’re involved in. The difference in quality when it comes to receivers and especially in the slot: Wes Welker with 61 receptions for 648 yards and 9 touchdowns against Julian Edelman with 52 receptions for 500 yards and two touchdowns might be the deciding factor.
The other will be the Patriots’ secondary. The Broncos have a better defense than their numbers suggest, allowing teams to pile on yards against them late in games. The Patriots have a reliable secondary for the first time in years. Attacking the middle early is their main weakness now, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Broncos change their gameplan in order to take advantage of that weakness.
Prediction – The Broncos are the better team, with the better quarterback. They’ll win.