Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 12/15/11
Denver-broncos-rookie

The legend of Tim Tebow could reach untold heights with a home win over Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.

In what could be described as a matchup between New England’s “Golden Boy” and Denver’s “Chosen One” (sorry LeBron, but Tebow is like the anti-LeBron in terms of clutch play), we will find out much about the AFC playoff picture.

With a win, New England can clinch the AFC East and stay on pace with Baltimore in the quest for home field throughout the AFC playoffs.

A Denver win would mean staying at least one game ahead of the Oakland Raiders and two ahead of the San Diego Chargers, regardless of those teams’ results Sunday.  Coincidentally, Baltimore and San Diego play each other Sunday night, in a game that will have implications for both the Patriots and the Broncos.

Patriots-Broncos Things To Consider For Sunday

No one has had more media coverage than Tim Tebow, so it’s only natural to begin by reviewing what he and the Broncos have accomplished over the last 8 weeks. Denver has surged to the top of the AFC West with 6 straight victories and 7 in their last 8 games (all since Tebow took over the starting quarterback duties).

Tim Rasmussen | Denver Post

During that time, Tebow hasn’t always looked spectacular but, with only that single embarrassing exception, he and the Broncos have found a way to win every week.  They lead the NFL in team rushing with over 156 yards per game.  Willis McGahee has been huge, with 920 yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry.  Tebow’s rushing ability has also been on display (517 yards), and while his passing has been sub-par, he has been able to make the huge plays when his team needs them most.

Receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have shown big play ability, both catching long touchdowns to key Denver wins during their current streak.  And kicker Matt Prater has been as clutch as a kicker can be during all of these comeback wins.

As important as Tebow is for Denver, their defense has kept them in games to allow Tebow to work his late-game magic.  Rookie Von Miller has been a menace, amassing 11.5 sacks this season.  He is a likely shoo-in for defensive rookie of the year.  Although Denver has largely won against below-average offenses (the blowout loss to the Lions is the only game in which they have faced a top caliber quarterback since Tebow took over), their style of play translates well to any opponent.  They create pressure up front, cover receivers well in the secondary, and tackle very well.  One concern may be the questionable injury status of safety Brian Dawkins and corner Andre Goodman.  The Patriots don’t need any help moving the ball, so if those two can’t go things could get rough for Denver.

New England continues to win despite employing a secondary that is practically being held together with band-aids.  Receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater have been inserted into the defense at times as safeties, but the Patriots are still allowing a league-worst 308 yards per game through the air.  Part of that can be attributed to the fact that New England has led big in most games, leading to their opponents throwing almost exclusively.  But a big part of that stat is also the ineptitude of that defensive secondary.

On offense, it’s business as usual for New England.  Tom Brady continues to be the best quarterback in the NFL not named Aaron Rodgers.  His 4,273 passing yards and 33 touchdowns both rank second in the NFL, and the connection he has formed with tight end Rob Gronkowski is as formidable as any quarterback-tight end tandem I’ve seen in the NFL.  Gronkowski has caught 71 passes for 1,088 yards and 15 touchdowns – staggering totals for a tight end.

What New England must do to win

In order for New England to stop the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow, they are going to have to build a large lead and keep it.  That sounds stupidly simplistic, but the only way I’m willing to write off the Broncos any more is if they are down by multiple touchdowns in the last couple minutes of a game.

Brady and the offensive line will need to keep Miller at bay, because if he’s allowed to get to the quarterback all sorts of bad things can happen for the Patriots.  Pressure can lead to turnovers, and in the worst case, a Brady injury.

Defensively, the Patriots will need to throw different looks at Tebow and force him to make second and third reads in the passing game.  The only way they can compensate for their weak defensive backs is to out-scheme Denver, so they will have to show different blitz packages and coverages, just to confuse Tebow.  If they do that successfully, Brady and the offense will roll.

What Denver must do to win

It is imperative for Denver to generate offense before the 4th quarter of this game.  They haven’t played an offense like New England during this streak, so they haven’t experienced a team moving the ball at will.  Tebow must be able to pick on the patchwork defensive backfield of New England.  He will need to hit Thomas and Decker for big plays to keep their rushing attack going.  I think Denver can have success on offense, as long as they are balanced and as long as Tebow stays away from mistakes (as he has done superbly this year).

The Denver defense will face their toughest test of the season, and the task of defending both Wes Welker and Gronkowski is nearly impossible.  But if they can get in Brady’s face they have a chance.  Much of their fortune lies in the health of Goodman and Dawkins, and we won’t know their availability until right before game time.

Patriots-Broncos Prediction

As amazing as Tebow has been, I think the magic stops this week.

I think Brady and the Patriots offense will score early and often, and while I don’t think they will be able to stop Denver’s offense the entire day, I think they will be able to get enough stops to win with relative ease.

I look for Tebow to set a season high in passing yards, but my gut also tells me he will turn the ball over a couple of times as well.

Final Score: Patriots 38 | Broncos 24

What do you think?

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

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Patriots-Broncos Game Info
  • Patriots-Broncos Date: Sunday, December 18
  • Patriots-Broncos Kickoff Time: 4:15 PM EST
  • Patriots-Broncos TV: CBS
  • Patriots-Broncos Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
  • Patriots-Broncos Point Spread: Patriots -7
  • Patriots-Broncos Over/Under: 46.5

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Follow me on Twitter @keithmullett

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Image Credits: denverpost.com, yahoo.com

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