Tag Archives: Denver Broncos

Key Matchups and My Prediction for Broncos – Patriots

Patriots Broncos

by Jim Bearor

There are only three weeks left of football – maybe the best football we’ve seen all year – but still, the NFL season is almost over, and that sucks.  As excited as I am to see a new champion emerge, I am equally as scared to go about my life without football for the next several months, and I know there are thousands of fans who feel the same way.

Knowing the end is near changes how we view things.  Playoff games are already overanalyzed, and the magnifying glass only gets bigger as the weeks go by.  Here we are, the day before the AFC and NFC Championship Games, and every aspect of both games has been broken down. All positional matchups have already been covered, and I’m sure that every possible result has been predicted by one “expert” or another. This makes it awful tough for me to offer a “unique take” on it all, but I’ll give it a whack anyway.

I firmly believe that despite the high-profile quarterbacks on either end, the AFC Title game will be won at –or near – the line of scrimmage. More specifically, here are a couple positional matchups that deserve more attention.

When the Patriots have the ball

The offensive line of New England has improved a great deal as the season has gone on.  Although it is the same patchwork group that allowed Brady to be sacked 40 times in the regular season, their suddenly dominant run blocking has defined the team’s playoff run to this point.  How well they handle Denver’s defensive line on inside handoffs – primarily Terrance Knighton and Shawn Phillips – will determine what role the Broncos linebackers will play.  If the Patriots have difficulty moving the ball inside, that frees up Linebackers Trevathan and Woodyard to focus on pass coverage.

Another matchup that draws my attention is WR Danny Amendola versus Champ Bailey.  While I’m not positive that this is how Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio will play things, I’m fairly certain that CB Rodgers-Cromartie will be tasked with keeping the versatile Julian Edelman in check.  If this is how it works out, I think Amendola’s speed creates major problems for an aging Bailey.  Maybe he will get some extra safety help, which could leave DRC and Edelman 1-on-1.  Regardless of how they choose to defend the two small, speedy wideouts, the Broncos are going to have their hands full without starting Corner Chris Harris in the lineup

When the Broncos have the ball

The injuries to Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork will most likely become targets for the Denver offense, which means Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and Jamie Collins have a lot of slack to pick up – and in recent weeks, they’ve done exactly that.  But keeping tabs on Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball without sending too many defenders is crucial, as the Pats will need to  dedicate most of their resources to pass coverage if they have any hope of containing Thomas, Thomas, Decker, and Welker.

In my opinion, the biggest x-factor for the Broncos is TE Julius Thomas.  His size and pass-catching ability often creates drastic mismatches for opposing defenses, but the Patriots may have an answer for him.  New England met a similar threat in Week 6 when they faced Jimmy Graham and the Saints.  Graham was held without a catch by physical CB Aqib Talib, and I feel like Thomas might be handled the same way.  I could be wrong though, as Jamie Collins did a great job last week against Colby Fleener.  But Fleener isn’t quite Thomas, so the Pats must either risk that matchup or pull Talib off of Decker or the other Thomas.  Neither of these scenarios bode well for New England.

My Prediction

Belichick has always had Peyton’s number in the playoffs, but Peyton has never had so much talent around him.  Denver’s weapons in the passing game will spread New England’s defense thin, allowing Moreno and Ball to run wild. I also expect the Patriots to move the ball well, relying heavily on the run game again.  Amendola hauls in a couple long balls, and Edelman will perform at about the level that is expected from him.  However, they will not be able to match Denver’s scoring pace, leading to Tom Brady seeing more pressure as New England falls behind and is forced to abandon the ground game.

Denver wins 38-27

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When Watching Brady-Manning XIV, Don’t Forget About the Other Guy

belichick evil

by Jim Bearor

Let’ start off this piece by playing a little round of the “The Dating Game” with quarterbacks, because I always have fun trying to guess. Here we go: Which of these guys is the better playoff quarterback:

Lucky Quarterback #1: 8-7 in last 15 playoff starts

Lucky Quarterback #2: 8-7 in last 15 playoff starts

Welp, sorry about that stat, that doesn’t help at all. But how do things change when I throw in some actual in-game statistics?

Lucky Quarterback #1: 63.49 Completion %, 281.4 YDS/GM, 7.41 YDS/ATT

Lucky Quarterback #2: 62.06 Completion %, 245.9 YDS/GM, 6.74 YDS/ATT

QB #1 might have a slight advantage here, but the difference is almost negligible. Here’s one last hint though:

Lucky Quarterback #1 thinks that Lucky Quarterback #2 has played under the greatest coach of all time for the duration of his career.  Does that do it for you?

That’s right, QB #1 is Peyton Manning, and the QB#2 is Tom Brady.  Of course I took certain liberties choosing which statistics to show, because if I chose something like, say, career playoff record (Peyton’s is 10-11 while Toms tops the NFL’s leaderboard at 18-7), this wouldn’t have been any fun. Brady has Manning’s number in head-to-head matchups as well, where the Brady/Belichick duo have won 9 of their 13 games against Manning, including the regular season.

But Peyton is right by the way – Belichick is the best coach in the league, and probably the smartest man to ever put on a headset (definitely the smartest man to ever wear a sleeveless hoodie).  This is something he has learned from experience, as throughout much of his career in Indianapolis, he has been frustrated by less talented New England squads that seemingly always play to the best of their abilities.  Time and time again in these Brady/Manning Bowls, we have seen Peyton walk off the field after an uncharacteristically bad interception, followed by Brady coming in and embarrassing the Colts defense.  Series of events like this have become engraved in every football fans mind, even the Peyton Manning playoff apologists.

Tom Brady certainly deserves most of the credit whenever his legendary offense is brought up, he is the unquestioned leader of that group.  You can’t however, give Brady credit for the brilliant schemes and execution of the Patriots defense, much like Manning shouldn’t be held accountable for the shortcomings of his defense in Indy for so many years – and don’t forget about Rahim Moore’s big “oops” against the Ravens last year. No, the quarterback isn’t at all responsible for whatever happens with his team’s defense, that is the property of the players on the other side of the ball, and the guy calling the plays — which, for New England, happens to be Bill Belichick.

Throughout his career with the Pats, Coach Belichick has been known for gameplanning to take away the opposing offense’s top threat, and forcing them to beat him in other ways.  More often than not, this proves to be successful.  Either a team is exposed for being one-dimensional, or the pressure is shifted to a group that is not used to being in the spotlight.  For whatever reason though, Belichick’s schemes have worked enough to bring his team to 5 Super Bowls – and for the sake of this conversation, they’ve worked well enough to stifle the greatest statistical quarterback of all time.

While Tony Dungy will likely be a Hall of Famer very soon, and John Fox is no scrub, – although Jim Mora is – nobody is on the same level as Belichick. So when a Brady/Manning Bowl is discussed, Belichick should be the third guy that is mentioned, no question about it. 

To clear things up, I don’t mean to take anything away from Brady.  He is head-and-shoulders a better playoff quarterback than Manning is, and that isn’t something that can be changed this late in either’s career. Brady is better with less help around him (case in point: Troy Brown), and outside of maybe Montana, there is nobody in the history of the NFL more fit to lead a game-winning drive in a game that matters.  All I ask is that the next time you compare the two – which in all likelihood, will probably be in the next hour – don’t leave Belichick out of the discussion.  It’s like snubbing Darth Sidious when talking about how evil Vader was — just careless.

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Divisional Weekend’s Winners and Losers – Where Do They Stand?

Divisional roundby Jim Bearor

To me, the Divisional Round and the Conference Championship Round are the best two weeks in sports – yeah even a little better than March Madness.  And now that the AFC and NFC Title games are set, I’m feeling a little depressed that there are only three more games left this season.

But it’s been a great year of football, and as it is with any sport, half of the fun is drawing conclusions about the teams that don’t finish their season in the winner’s circle.  There are some teams who many did not think would make it past the regular season, and by surpassing everyone’s expectations – including their own – they can mark this past year off as a success (here are your Chiefs, Chargers, Panthers, and maybe Colts). For other teams, merely making it to the postseason doesn’t provide quite the same satisfaction.  Some teams may have met similar ends to their 2013-14 campaign, but you have to look deeper to see what it means to the franchise.

That being said, here is what I took away from the teams that won and lost this past week:

Saints at Seahawks

 Saints – For New Orleans, it might be tough to write this season off as a success, but they were put in a difficult position the moment they lost to the Carolina Panthers and were forced to settle for the NFC’s sixth seed.  All year, the story about the Saints hasn’t been the return to success following Coach Sean Payton’s return, but rather that the team was incapable of winning on the road.  To be fair, that criticism has some merit, but they went on the road to beat a tough Philadelphia team and found themselves playing the next week in the league’s most hostile environment. That’s tough. All in all though, they had a good year. They finished the regular season 11-5 (and somehow ended up as the lowest seed in the conference), won a playoff game on the road, and gave the Seattle Seahawks – who I think is the best team out there – a run for their money.  Not too shabby at all. If I’m a Saints fan, I’m expecting another formidable playoff run next year.

Seahawks – They are who we thought they were.  The conditions and crowd noise definitely were factors in this weekend’s game, but I was amazed by the Seattle secondary – as I am every time I watch them.  Except for some lapses in coverage later in the game, I think they did a great job of handling Drew Brees and keeping him from getting into a rhythm.  Just think, Jimmy Graham didn’t even have a catch.  The best Tight End in Football was shut out completely.  That says it all.  On the offensive side of things though, I thought the Seahawks could have looked a bit better.  Marshawn Lynch did a great job of carrying the workload with 28 carries, but it didn’t look like Coach Carroll really wanted to open up the playbook and finish this game in the third quarter.  Maybe part of this is on Wilson, but if the Seahawks are to beat San Fran next week, I think the offense needs to play a bigger role and keep Kaepernick off the field.  This was a dominant win without the exclamation point at the end, but hey, a win is a win.

Colts at Patriots

Colts – Coming into this game, I thought Andrew Luck and company had a legitimate shot at winning this thing.  I didn’t expect them to, but I figured we’d see a Brady-Luck shootout, and they would have a chance in a game like that.  However Belichick – the evil genius that he is – decided to run the ball, run it some more, then keep on running it until the game was over. Partially thanks to a couple early miscues by Indianapolis, the Patriots dictated the tempo from the beginning. A tough way to go out, but this loss to end the year doesn’t mean the season is a loss for the Colts.  It was their first full year under Chuck Pagano and second under Andy Luck.  They earned a big win over what everyone thought was a big-time team in Kansas City, and didn’t get embarrassed by the Patriots.  The arrow is definitely pointing up for this group.

Patriots – This win showed us that although Tom Brady is definitely the centerpiece of this team, he doesn’t have to bear the onus all the time.  No, he doesn’t have the weapons around him in the passing game that Peyton does, but he has a hell of a running game and the best coach in football.  This time, Brady was asked to play game manager and hand the game off to Lagarrette Blount and Stephan Ridley.  They made the Indy defense look silly – again – without relying on Tom Brady.  Big win for the Pats, as they introduce a game plan that could help get them another championship. The physical run game adds another dimension to this team, one that could help give them the upper hand when the weather worsens.

49ers at Panthers

Panthers – This was the first time we got to see Cam in the playoffs, and considering what he was dealing with, I don’t think he did a terrible job.  San Francisco’s front seven stopped the Carolina running game before it really started, and they never left Newton alone.  Cam was sacked 4 times, hurried on nearly every play, and still managed to put together a decent game, all things considering. Gore and Kaepernick wore down a Panthers defense that to this point, were held to the same standard of the ‘Hawks and ‘9ers. What does this say about Carolina’s defense? To me, it just showed that the offensive line of San Fran was superior to the Panthers defensive front.  Going into this game, I though Kuechly and Thomas were going to be able to compensate for some of the mismatches on the line of scrimmage, but that turned out not to be the case.  The Panthers got beat in the trenches on both sides of the ball, plain and simple.  Looking ahead, I think Carolina has a pretty bright future if they do a good job of reloading in the offseason.  While they do have a great foundation, Cam still needs more to throw to, and the often-banged-up running back situation is cause for concern, and you can always get better on defense.  But this season showed progress for Carolina, and I think they will be perennial contenders in what should be a tough NFC South in coming years.

49ers – San Fran proved that they were a better team than Carolina.  The teams may have been constructed off of a similar blueprint, but the 49ers are built with more care out of superior parts.  There aren’t any weak parts to this team, just areas that may be overshadowed.  The secondary isn’t weak, but linebackers and defensive lineman definitely help take some of that pressure off.  Kaepernick is not a liability – ok, maybe sometimes – he just doesn’t dominate like his wideouts or o-line.  More than anybody else, this team has their formula figured out.  They aren’t stuck in their ways, they are consistently executing the game plan that Coach Harbaugh has drawn up.  In a Lombardi-esque way, this group is saying: “here is what we are, here is what we are going to do, try and stop us.”  Something about that mentality might be intimidating to the remaining teams, as the 49ers have shown that – maybe, just maybe – you can make them break, but they sure as hell won’t bend.

Chargers at Broncos

Chargers – In the beginning of this post, when I was referring to a team that was just happy to be here, these are the guys I was talking about.  While you won’t hear that come out of anyone’s mouth in the San Diego locker room, I’m pretty sure that was the state of mind of the fanbase, and everyone else surrounding the team.  This type of success is not usually expected from a team that just hired a head coach.  Mike McCoy has done a tremendous job in his first year here.  He helped Phillip Rivers turn back into the Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback that he was a few years ago, and maybe pushed him a little beyond that.  Ryan Mathews had a solid year, and Danny Woodhead managed to fill the little shoes that were left behind by Darren Sproles so long ago.  But above all, McCoy somehow managed to get San Diego into the playoffs while playing in a division with the Chiefs and Broncos.  Wow.  This could be the start of a great era for the Chargers.  You stay classy, San Diego.

Broncos – Peyton Manning didn’t throw up all over himself.  That’s really all there is to talk about here.  The Broncos were the better team and they showed it, as the offense looked near-unstoppable.  But somehow, someway, the Chargers recovered an onside kick en route to making it a close game, and all Peyton had to do was seal the deal.  Many – including half of me – were holding their breath, half-expecting another meltdown.  But it didn’t happen, as Manning found Julius Thomas for a couple clutch first downs, and Denver sealed the deal.  Looking forward to their matchup against the Pats, I have some doubt about the Broncos, and it isn’t completely their fault.  Belichick showed that he is more than willing to pound the rock, and that could be a recipe for disaster for a Broncos squad that are not so tough on the run.  But who knows, Manning’s offense looks sharp as ever, and maybe Denver can control the line of scrimmage on defense.  But really, who knows what is going to happen in this next Manning-Brady Bowl?  It’s the NFL, where everything’s made up and previous weeks don’t matter. Just enjoy it.