The Broncos pulled off the wild-card weekend shocker and will now meet the Patriots Saturday in a rematch of their Week 15 showdown. New England is the heavy favorite (just like Pittsburgh was) but if Denver can stay aggressive on defense and get a little bit more of that Tebow magic, the AFC West champs could prove the doubters wrong once again.
1. Be angry
The Denver defense showed its physical side against Pittsburgh, using man-to-man coverage to keep the receiving corps on its toes. The D sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times but, more importantly, didn’t buckle when the Steelers mounted a comeback (Big Ben was sacked three times on the final drive, denying Pittsburgh a chance at a game-winning field goal). If the Broncos have any chance of keeping up with Tom Brady (second in the NFL with 5,235 passing yards) they must stay aggressive on defense.
The Patriots are near the top of the league in terms of points scored, total yards and passing yards per game and they have the weapons to do some serious damage (Rob Gronkoswki and Wes Welker to name two). But back in Week 3, the Bills showed the football world that Brady isn’t invincible. Buffalo took advantage of Brady’s penchant to throw over the middle of the field — the D got hands up in the passing lanes and thanks to some timely tips and deflections, were able to intercept Brady four times.
The Broncos have to make Brady uncomfortable and force him to make mistakes.
2. Trust tebow
Just a few weeks ago, this statement would have been laughable. In the final three games of the regular season, Tim Tebow threw one touchdown, four interceptions and didn’t surpass the 200-yard plateau in any of those starts. In fact the Broncos offense scored just two touchdowns total in its last two games. Some said the magic was gone, but now we know better.
Putting up a season-high 316 passing yards against the league’s top-rated pass defense last week doesn’t necessarily mean Tebow has all of a sudden turned into the second coming of Joe Montana. It means he has the ability to slice and dice an opposing secondary if the matchups are there, and they are there this week against the Patriots. New England’s Achilles heel this entire season has been its pass defense — the unit was second-last in passing yards (293.9) and total yards allowed per game (411.1).
Tebow has a chance to put up some nice numbers again this weekend, even if former head coach Josh McDaniels is lurking on the enemy sideline. When these teams met in Week 15, Tebow had 194 passing yards but scored two touchdowns on the ground. An effective running game will help the Broncos and their top-ranked rushing offense even more as they try to keep pace with the high-flying Patriots.
3. Find paydirt
We know the Patriots are going to put up a lot of points Saturday (they always do), so that makes scoring touchdowns even the more important for the Broncos. Here’s the funny thing about the New England defense: even though it gave up all those yards, the team allowed an average of just 21.4 points per game (15th in the NFL). It’s the bend but don’t break mentality.
The defense avoids giving up the home run play while the offense scores in bunches to offset any defensive breakdowns. Amazingly, the Pats had one of the best red-zone defenses in football, and they also had six red-zone takeaways, which was tops in the AFC.
Matt Prater is a very good kicker (he went 19-for-25 this season for the Broncos, including 3-for-4 on field goals of 50 yards or more) but the less Denver uses him on Saturday the better. If the Broncos are able to break through in the red zone against the Patriots, this could turn into a much more competitive game than people think.