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Game Preview: Patriots vs. Broncos

The Patriots will begin their run to get back to the Super Bowl on Saturday night when they take on the story that is sweeping the nation. Tebowmania hits Gillette Stadium as the Broncos are coming off their dramatic 29-23 overtime upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wild Card weekend.

This is a re-match of the game that occurred on Week 15 at Sports Authority Field when the Patriots rallied from an early 16-7 deficit to win 41-23. That has been the problem for New England especially in the last four or five weeks. In the first half, their defense digs the offense into some pretty big holes. However, in the 2nd half, everything seems to click again as the D forces a big turnover or two to catapult the offense. By the way, if you follow me on Twitter, you will see when I predict the turnovers. Also, in the first game, the Broncos keyed in on Rob Gronkowski by putting two defenders on him. With New England’s two tight end formations, this allowed Tebow’s college teammate, Aaron Hernandez, to make a huge impact with nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Here are my keys to the Saturday Showdown in Foxboro:

  1. A Royal Exit: All the attention in the Broncos’ receiving corps has gone to Demaryius Thomas. Thomas was the receiver who caught the eighty yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to win the game on Sunday. In Week 15, Thomas was Tebow’s leading receiver with seven catches for 116 yards. However, with the injury to Eric Decker, Denver will need another target to help out #15. I would look for Eddie Royal to be the guy Patriots’ fans should watch out for both on offense and special teams.

Royal has battled injuries for most of the season and did not play a huge factor in Week 15. However, on Sunday, he had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown on the 22 yarder from Tebow in the 2nd quarter. With Decker out, New England will need to pay attention to Royal to make Tebow one dimensional in the passing game. Plus, don’t discount Royal’s punt return ability. After the first matchup, the Broncos cut Quann Cosby for muffing a punt and taking a kick out of the endzone to cost them field position. Royal can change field position and even take one to the house, since he has an 85 yard return for a TD in a 38-24 win against the Raiders on November 6th.

  1. Turnovers For Tebow: We all know by now about Tebow’s journey as he took a 1-4 team and led them as the starting quarterback to this point in the postseason. So, what exactly is Tebow’s kryptonite? You have to make him cough up the football. In the second quarter, the Patriots, in Week 15, were able to accomplish that. It all started with an essential strip of the ball by Mark Anderson to set up the game. Tebow had five interceptions in his last five games which led to his lack of confidence in the Chiefs’ game. New England got 13 points in the 2nd quarter off of Denver turnovers in Week 15. In Foxboro, the Broncos will have to play a turnover-free game to keep up with a high-powered offense, something they have not been able to until last week against a banged up Ben Roethlisberger.

  2. A Balanced Attack: People think that the only way the Patriots are going to win this game is if they throw the ball fifty times with their best asset. While that could be the case, I think they need to create similar balance with both pass and run to what they did in the first matchup. The playcalling in that game by offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was 34 passes and 36 runs. This allows Brady to use the play action pass downfield to his killer tight end weapons in Gronkowski and Hernandez. The key will be rookie Stevan Ridley. Ridley, in the last three games, is averaging 70 yards per game on the ground. With the “Law Firm” not producing like he did in 2010, the third round pick out of LSU needs to pick up the load so New England can avoid third and longs in order to get those quick scores.

PREDICTION: There are so many storylines and so much buzz about this game amongst the national media. It was added to it during the week when the Patriots added former offensive coordinator and ex-Broncos’ head coach Josh McDaniels as their offensive assistant for the playoff run and eventually taking over the OC job from Bill O’Brien.

As to what I think will happen in this game, I think this will be a close game. The one thing I am concerned with for New England is although they have come up with some timely turnovers the last few games; they have to stop digging themselves in ten point holes so early in the game. Denver can run and run a lot as we saw with their 167 rushing yards in the 1st quarter back in the first game. I think the Broncos hang around for three quarters. Usually, that means Tebow Time will bring doom for New England. This week, I think that changes. Tebow turns the ball over late as the Patriots get their first playoff win since 2008.