The New England Patriots snapped a three-game losing streak at Sports Authority Field last season, winning in a building that has been a house of horrors for Tom Brady throughout his career.
The fact that the Patriots are 7 1/2-point favorites in their latest trip to Denver shows just how flawed this year’s Broncos team is.
The Broncos have been a disaster over the past month-plus, losing four consecutive games and five of their last six. Their latest defeat was their most humbling yet: a 51-23 thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday.
As the Patriots and Broncos prepare to square off on “Sunday Night Football,” here’s a quick look at what to expect from Denver:
— The Broncos rank 22nd in the NFL in points per game, 18th in total yards per game, 19th in average passing yards and 14th in average rushing yards. They were held below 20 points in five consecutive games before this past Sunday when they scored 23 but managed just one offensive touchdown.
— Denver’s issues on offense begin under center, as neither Trevor Siemian nor Brock Osweiler has looked like a legitimate NFL quarterback this season. Together, the duo ranks 27th in completion percentage and 30th in passer rating, and only the Cleveland Browns have thrown more interceptions than the Broncos’ 12.
Osweiler, who was picked off twice against Philadelphia in his first start of the season, will remain in the starting lineup this Sunday, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see head coach Vance Joseph turn back to Siemian if the Brocketship begins to nosedive again.
— Folks in Denver weren’t thrilled with running back C.J. Anderson even before the Eagles’ stifling front seven held him to 13 yards on nine carries. Anderson, who trampled over the Patriots for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries back in 2015, has topped 100 yards just once this season and ranks 24th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.2).
Denver’s No. 2 back is former Kansas City Chiefs star Jamaal Charles, who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry in his first season with the Broncos.
— As has been the case for years now, the strength of this Broncos team is its defense, which returned three All-Pros from last season in outside linebacker Von Miller and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
“Defensively, they’ve been the top-ranked defense in the league,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “(They’re) good against everything — run, pass, third down, hitting the quarterback, do a real good job in the running game, put you in a lot of long-yardage situations.”
But while Denver leads the NFL in total defense — and entered this past weekend ranked second in defense DVOA behind the Jacksonville Jaguars — the Broncos actually have allowed the seventh-most points per game this season. The Eagles debacle certainly didn’t help in that regard, as Philadelphia racked up four touchdowns through the air and another two on the ground.
— Miller, who ranked second in the league in sacks in 2016, remains a force, averaging a sack per game this season. He’s on pace for 16 sacks, which would be the second-highest total of his career and his highest since 2012, and is tied for second in the NFL with 11 tackles for loss.
Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon was able to neutralize Miller when these teams met last December, holding the Broncos’ star pass rusher without a sack or quarterback hit in a 16-3 New England victory.
— Despite their star-studded secondary, the Broncos have intercepted just five passes through eight games, tied for 21st in the league. Talib and Harris have just two picks and 10 pass breakups between them.
Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images