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-Division Preview: Patriots & Broncos
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 12, 2006
This Saturday in the night game, the New England Patriots will take on the Denver Broncos for the second game of the 2005-2006 NFL divisional playoffs. Both teams met each other earlier this season, in a game that the Broncos won 28-20. Jake Plummer was able to manage the game very well, while Brady and the Patriots offense had to play without running backs Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk. The Broncos are coming in as the second seed in the AFC and are 8-0 at home, but many are picking the defending Super Bowl Champions to come away with the victory due to their recent roll. The Patriots are almost at full healthy, and their defense appears to be as dominant as ever. Now that these two teams meet in the second round of the playoffs, who will come out on top?

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AFC Divisional Playoff Game - Team Stats
New England Patriots - #4 vs. #2 - Denver Broncos
- Overall Record: 10-6
Road Record: 5-3
7th overall
(24th rush, 2nd pass)
26th overall
(8th rush, 31st pass)
- Overall Record: 13-3
Home Record: 8-0
5th overall
(2nd rush, 18th pass)
15th overall
(2nd rush, 29th pass)
Last Meeting - October 16th, 2005
Quarterback vs. Quarterback
Tom Brady: 24 of 46 for 299 yards, 1 touchdown.

Brady did a fair job against the Broncos earlier this year, especially considering the fact that he did not have either of his top two running backs on the active roster at the time. Nobody can beat Brady in the playoffs, and Denver's pass defense is not the greatest. Brady should have more success than he did when he faced them earlier this year, even with being on the road.
Jake Plummer: 17 of 24 for 262 yards,  2 touchdowns. 5 carries, 6 yards.

Note: Plummer seemed to elevate the Broncos to a new level when he beat the Patriots because he managed the game effectively yet again. With all of the hype that the Patriots have been getting lately, it seems to have gotten lost that Plummer is definitely a candidate for "most improved" player of the year. This time around though, he is facing a much more intense Patriots' defense.
Running Backs vs. Running Backs
Corey Dillon: Did not play (injury).
Kevin Faulk: Did not play (injury).

The Broncos have the 2nd best run defense in the league, so it didn't help the Patriots that Patrick Pass was their featured back against them. Although Pass didn't do too bad, having Dillon pound the ball hard and utilizing Faulk as a dump off receiver adds another dimension to the offense. The running game will really help the passing game as well, allowing for some more single coverage on certain receivers.
Tatum Bell: 13 carries, 114 yards, 8.8 avg, 1 touchdown. 1 catch, 4 yards. 3 catches, 20 yards.
Mike Anderson: 15 carries, 57 yards, 1 touchdown.

Note: The Broncos came up just shy of having two 1,000 yards runners with Anderson and Bell, and both of them can run effectively against a lot of teams. Ever since everyone on New England's defense has gotten healthy though, they have been able to completely shut down the opposition's running game.
Receivers vs. Receivers
Deion Branch: 7 catches, 87 yards.
David Givens:
7 catches, 58 yards, 1 touchdown.
Ben Watson/Daniel Graham:
2 catches, 11 yards.

I said the same thing last week, and the Patriots did exactly what I thought they would against the Jaguars: spread the ball around. The Broncos were able to shut down New England's tight ends due to their lack of running backs earlier this year, so expect Graham and Watson to see a lot more looks this time around.
Rod Smith: 6 catches, 123 yards, 1 touchdown.
Ashley Lelie:
3 catches, 81 yards.
Jeb Putzier:
3 catches, 32 yards.

Note: Contrary to the Patriots, Plummer tends to throw to Smith and Lelie for the majority of the game. When he runs the bootleg, the tight end is usually a favorite target for him, especially if he gets the entire defense to bite on the run. Plummer will find it difficult to run the ball himself in this game though, meaning that he may have to resort to a pocket passer more than he would like to.
Defense vs. Defense
Defense: 1 sack, 28 points allowed.

Note: Towards the end of the season, the Patriots were able to take advantage of facing weaker-oriented offenses, including against the Jaguars last week. The defense that Denver sees in this game will not even be comparable to what they saw earlier this year though, which may affect their gameplan early on.
Defense: 20 points allowed.

Note: The one negative on Denver's defense: no pass rush. They rarely sack the quarterback, and that can turn into a nightmare if you give Brady all day to dissect a secondary. Even if the Broncos stuff the run most of the time, New England will keep pounding it until they break one, even if it's only for ten yards.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
Adam Vinatieri: As one of the best kickers in the game, there's no one the Patriots would rather have on the road if they need a clutch kick.

The Patriots are not too explosive in the return game, but their clutch kicking gives them a slight advantage.
Jason Elam: Elam isn't so far off compared to Vinatieri, with the exception of the fact that he isn't known as a "clutch" kicker as well as Vinatieri.

Note: The Broncos can also rely on Elam at all times to get it done.
Final Analysis
New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
Until someone can beat the champions, how can you bet against them? The Patriots have that intimidation factor back and are physically dominating games all around. Brady should have no problems in the passing game, especially since he has built better chemistry with both of his tight ends through the course of the year.

Having Dillon and Faulk both make their returns has completed the Patriots offense. When both of them were out, Brady carried his team without a doubt. However, he did have a game or two in which he was really off, and could have definitely used the run game. Although he didn't play bad against Denver earlier this season, utilizing the running game more effectively could have allowed him to get that one extra "big play" that results in a touchdown.

Defensively, the Patriots could be the best in the playoffs, despite their overall season ranking. The players definitely have the most experience of the postseason, and have the capability of preventing Bell and Anderson from ever getting started. Plummer should be able to throw the ball well enough to prevent interceptions, but even the Patriots "filler" players are hitting hard, which can make it tough on the Broncos receivers.
Out of all the teams in the playoffs, the Broncos may be the most "forgotten" of them all. Unless you're a New England "hater", a lot of people believe the Patriots will defeat the Broncos due to their recent success. It's not often that the Broncos have been dominated in a game, so as long as Plummer does not turn the ball over, the Broncos will be in it until the end.

The combination of Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson has worked to perfection for the Broncos, and even Ron Dayne hasn't done too bad in cleanup duty. This allows the Broncos to have more of a selective playbook, and the ability to substitute one for the other if one is struggling. Bell broke a big run against New England last time, which could very well have been the difference between winning and losing.

The Broncos receiving most of the Browns' defensive line in the offseason was a highly criticized decision at first, but it didn't pan out too bad. Granted, some people may be giving them too much credit, but they have worked well in allowing the Broncos run defense to shut teams down. However, with how well New England schemes their plays, the Broncos have to be worried what will happen if their defense gets "lost" early in the game.
AFC Divisional Prediction
Winner - New England Patriots
The Broncos have yet to lose at home yet, but I still show a lot of "respect" for what the Broncos have done this season. When it comes to the postseason though, I would much rather put the faith of my pick in the hands of the Patriots rather than the Broncos, not only because of experience. No one will dominate this game, and if they do, it'll mean that they could actually be "the team to beat" when it comes down to next week's AFC Championship game. The Patriots will kick a Vinatieri field goal late to pick up the victory. Final Score: Patriots 24, Broncos 21.

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