When I previewed last season's Patriots-Broncos matchup, I mentioned that football fans should enjoy it because it was quite possibly the last time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the two greatest regular-season quarterbacks of all time and two of the five best overall in league history, would ever face off. Now that's looking more and more likely.
I'm sure NBC executives are quite disappointed that Manning won't be able to play on Sunday night in Denver -- it will still draw monster ratings and be easily the most-wagered game on Sunday -- and improve his 5-11 record against Brady, but that's not to say this game has any less meaning in the grand scheme of things.
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Of course, the Patriots are 10-0 and looking to join their 2007 selves as the only teams to finish a regular season at 16-0. This is easily the toughest test left. Assuming the Pats don't lose any of their final two home games, they still travel to Houston, the NY Jets and Miami. The Texans are blah. That Jets game could be tricky perhaps, but they aren't as good as Denver. The Dolphins will have squat to play for by then. That the Pats finish unbeaten is +325 at BetOnline. They are clear Super Bowl favorites at +200.
If Denver (8-2) has any chance of stealing the No. 1 seed in the AFC then obviously it has to win here and not lose again because I don't see the Patriots losing twice more after this game. More realistic for the Broncos is beating out Cincinnati (8-2) for the No. 2 seed. Those two teams play in Denver in the final Monday night game of the year on Dec. 28. The Broncos are +1200 to win the Super Bowl.
Patriots at Broncos Betting Story Lines
The Patriots winning the AFC East yet again is a formality, but they can do so Sunday with a win and Jets loss at home to Miami. They also can even with a loss if the Jets and Bills (at Chiefs) both lose. Since the NFL instituted the 16-game schedule in 1978, five teams have clinched a division a title after 11 games. Four of those five teams advanced to the Super Bowl. The 2007 Patriots were one.
If you watched New England's 20-13 win over Buffalo on Monday, you may have noticed some cracks in the Pats. With the team losing both running back Dion Lewis and top receiver Julian Edelman to season-ending injuries of late (Edelman should be back for the playoffs), the Bills clearly didn't fear any Pats pass-catcher other than tight end Rob Gronkowski. So they shut him down, holding Gronk two just two catches for 37 yards, and dared Brady to beat them with anyone else. Danny Amendola had a good game with nine catches for 117 yards, but he left with a sprained left knee. He's questionable for this game. Fellow receiver Aaron Dobson is out with a high ankle sprain, and WR Keshawn Martin has missed five straight with a hamstring injury. Right now, the team's only healthy receivers are Brandon LaFell and Chris Harper. There's only so much Brady can do, and he had his worst game of the season against the Bills, completing 20-for-39 for 277 yards a TD and a pick.
Now Brady goes up against a defense that is ranked No. 2 in the NFL in points allowed (18.3), No. 1 in total defense (284.3 ypg), tops against the pass (190.6 ypg) and No. 1 in sacks (34.0). It's about 50-50 that the Broncos will get back linebacker DeMarcus Ware for this one. He has missed the past three with a back injury but still leads the team with 6.5 sacks.
As for Manning, he missed last week's 17-15 win in Chicago and has been ruled out until mid-December at least with a foot injury. It's very possible he never takes another snap for the Broncos, especially if backup Brock Osweiler wins this game and keeps playing well. He looked very good against the Bears in completing 20-for-27 for 250 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. The completion percentage (74.1) and Broncos' first-down percentage (51.9) were both season highs. Denver also rushed for a season-high 170 yards as Coach Gary Kubiak could run the type of offense he wanted with Osweiler in there.
Manning had thrown at least one pick in every game and had multiple TD passes in just one of his previous six. Can't believe I'm typing this, but Brock Osweiler is better than Peyton Manning right now. Maybe the month or so off is just what Manning needs, but it's going to be so interesting to see what decision Broncos boss John Elway makes between these two guys. I see no way Manning is a Bronco in 2016 even though you have heard reports he wants to play next year. The New England defense may have to win this game, and it may surprise you to know it ranks No. 1 in scoring (18.2 ppg), No. 2 against the rush (88.7 ypg) and No. 2 in sacks (32).
New England beat visiting Denver 43-21 in Week 9 last season. Brady, in his 200th career start, was 33-for-53 for 333 yards, four touchdowns and a pick. Gronkowski had nine grabs for 105 yards and a score, while Edelman had nine catches for 89 yards and a touchdown plus an 84-yard punt return for a score. After taking a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter, the Patriots wouldn't trail again. Manning threw a whopping 57 times and completed 34 for 438 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. Emmanuel Sanders caught 10 for 151 and Demaryius Thomas seven for 127.
Patriots at Broncos Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , New England is a 2.5-point favorite (-130) with a total of 43.5. On the moneyline, the Pats are -155 and the Broncos +135. On the alternate lines, the Patriots are -3.5 (+120), -3 (-105) and -2 (-135). New England is 5-3-2 against the spread (2-2 on road) and 5-5 "over/under" (3-1 on road). Denver is 5-5 ATS (2-2 at home) and 3-6-1 O/U (0-3-1 at home).
The Patriots are 5-1-1 ATS in their past seven when playing on a Sunday following a Monday. The Pats have failed to cover their past four against teams with a winning record. Denver is 6-2 ATS in its past eight following an ATS loss. It is 2-5 ATS in the past seven November games. The over is 7-1 in New England's past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 9-4 in Denver's past 13 following a win. The home team is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings. The over is 5-1 in the past six.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Patriots at Broncos Betting Prediction
All those injuries plus a short week for the Patriots ... I believe the Broncos win straight up even though Osweiler is still a wild card. But I'll take the 3.5-point alternate line. Go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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