Game Scout: Broncos at Patriots

Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Denver Broncos (9-1) at New England Patriots (7-3)
Sunday, 8:40 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass. - TV: NBC
*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
*Keys to the game: Frigid temperatures and high winds might take some of the air out of Peyton Manning-Tom Brady hyperbole. Manning is 2-9 at Foxboro, but he travels with an all-star supporting cast these days. That affords Manning the luxury of dulling the aerial display slightly, but Denver doesn't do conservative. Multiple tight end formations could return -- they became the norm at this time last season for the Broncos -- but Manning's biggest advantage lies outside with WRs Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Manning is going for his fifth straight 300-yard passing game but RB Knowshon Moreno (93.6 yards from scrimmage per game) is the unsung hero for the Broncos. The Patriots almost always attempt to stop the run with seven until proven incapable. If Denver goes slow, it could favor New England. This might be the first time in the Brady-Manning rivalry the Patriots aren't equipped for a fast-paced shootout. With short outlets to RB Shane Vereen (eight receptions last week), the Patriots nibbled at the Panthers' two-deep shell and picked their spots with TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Kenbrell Thompkins. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be more diligent getting Vereen, Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount carries to set the tone.
*Matchup to watch - Broncos RBs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball vs. Patriots LBs Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower -- The Patriots went from allowing 118.9 yards a game and 4.2 yards per carry with ILB Jerod Mayo to 136 yards a game and 4.3 yards a carry since he was injured -- including 5.0 yards per rush over the past three games. Moreno had 27 carries last week and Ball scored twice. It was more than a show-me move by the Broncos, who look to re-establish the ground game as a reliable threat heading into the cold-weather games that lurk from now through the postseason.
*Player spotlight - Broncos S Mike Adams: With the season-ending injury to Rahim Moore, Adams is again a starter. He started Week 10 at San Diego in place of Duke Ihenacho, the man who beat him out for a first-team role in the preseason, but draws two critical assignments this week as the deep man in Denver's single-high looks and the top-side help against Gronkowski.
*Fast facts - The Broncos have won 20 of 21 regular-season games since a 31-21 loss to the Patriots last season. ... Gronkowski has 40 touchdowns in 47 career games.
Wes Welker and Peyton Manning would love nothing more than to pound the Patriots, but in stocking cap weather this white-knuckler comes down to the kicking toes of Patriots PK Stephen Gostkowski (19 consecutive field goals made) and Denver's Matt Prater, who is 14 of 15 this season.
*Our pick: Broncos 26-23

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