OK, let’s try this again.
The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are set to square off this Sunday at Gillette Stadium in a game that already has been rescheduled twice.
Another postponement remains possible after the Patriots canceled practice Friday and placed backup guard/center James Ferentz on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but as of Friday night, the game remained on.
Let’s take a closer look at this Week 6 matchup:
Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
The 2-2 Patriots are pegged as nine-point home favorites over the 1-3 Broncos.
New England has practiced just twice in the last 14 days but should have starting quarterback Cam Newton and star cornerback Stephon Gilmore available after both were removed from the COVID list this week.
Annual foes during the Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning eras, the Patriots and Broncos have not faced each other since 2017, when New England beat a Brock Osweiler-led Denver team 41-16 at Mile High.
LAST TIME OUT
Despite unenviable and nearly unprecedented circumstances during the lead-up to the game, the Patriots stuck with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in their most recent contest, losing 26-10 at Arrowhead Stadium.
New England’s defense held Kansas City’s O to 19 points — its second-lowest total ever in a Mahomes start — but the Patriots couldn’t overcome four turnovers by Hoyer and Stidham. Hoyer also took an ill-advised sack late in the first half that robbed the Patriots of an easy field-goal try. He was benched for Stidham one quarter later.
The Broncos, who have been pummeled by injuries this season, knocked off the New York Jets 37-28 two weeks ago on “Thursday Night Football” to score their first win of the year.
The Patriots and Broncos both received an unscheduled bye last week when their game was postponed.
Four Patriots players are listed as questionable:
DT Adam Butler (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (knee)
G Shaq Mason (calf)
OT Isaiah Wynn (calf)
Mason did not play against the Chiefs. Rookie Mike Onwenu started in his place, with Ferentz filling in at center for David Andrews.
The Patriots likely will be without defensive tackle Byron Cowart, who tested positive last Saturday. Cowart theoretically could play Sunday if he was asymptomatic and returned two negative tests this week, but he has yet to be activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list. Expect the Patriots to elevate a D-tackle from the practice squad (Nick Thurman or Bill Murray) to fill the void.
Defensive end Deatrich Wise, meanwhile, should be active after being removed from the injury report Friday. He sat out Thursday’s practice for non-injury-related reasons.
Andrews, linebacker Josh Uche, running back Sony Michel, special teamer Cody Davis and defensive tackle Beau Allen are on injured reserve. Andrews and Uche can return next week. Michel and Davis must miss two more games. Allen is eligible to return at any point, but he has yet to practice this season.
The Broncos have ruled out running back Melvin Gordon (illness) linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (quadricep) and rookie receiver KJ Hamler (hamstring). Three other key Denver players are questionable:
TE Noah Fant (ankle)
NT Mike Purcell (knee)
QB Drew Lock (right shoulder)
Gordon is the Broncos’ leading rusher. He was charged with driving under the influence late Tuesday night and sat out Friday’s practice with an illness. Denver will have running back Phillip Lindsay back, though. He’s been out since Week 1.
Fant is one of the NFL’s top young tight ends. He would have been unable to play had this game not been rescheduled. If active, he’ll be a difficult matchup for Joejuan Williams, Kyle Dugger and the rest of the Patriots’ secondary.
Lock, Denver’s starting QB, missed the last two games, forcing the Broncos to make do with Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien behind center. Head coach Vic Fangio said Friday he’d list Lock as “probable” if he could.
Broncos cornerback A.J. Bouye returned to practice from IR this week but is doubtful to play Sunday, per Fangio. Top receiver Courtland Sutton (torn ACL) and star pass-rusher Von Miller (ankle surgery) are on IR and unavailable.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cam Newton, Patriots quarterback
Newton’s bout with COVID-19 wound up sidelining him for just one game. His return should reenergize an offense that sputtered with Hoyer and Stidham at the helm. Before his positive test, Newton was on pace for career highs in rushing yards (149 through three games), rushing touchdowns (four) and completion percentage (68.1 percent), and the Patriots were averaging 29 points per game.
Drew Lock, Broncos quarterback
Several Broncos players publicly (and understandably) griped about this game moving from Week 5 to Week 6. One silver lining: They should have their No. 1 QB back. Denver went 4-1 after handing the reins to the second-round draft pick late last season.
The odds will not be on Lock’s side, however. The Patriots won 24 consecutive games against first- and second-year quarterbacks until Lamar Jackson ended that streak last November. The last such QB to win in Foxboro? Colin Kaepernick in 2012.
Damien Harris, Patriots running back
One clear bright spot in the loss to the Chiefs was Harris, who, in place of an injured Michel, rushed for an even 100 yards on 17 carries in his first game off IR. Though he made a few late-game cameos last season, this was the 2019 third-rounder’s first NFL test, and he aced it.
Harris and the Patriots’ ground game will face a tougher matchup this week against a stingier Broncos run defense (13th or better in yards allowed per game, yards allowed per carry and DVOA).
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos wide receiver
John Elway has invested heavily in pass-catchers in recent drafts, but only one of those players enters this game fully healthy. With Sutton (second round, 2018) and Hamler (second round, 2020) both sidelined and Fant (first round, 2019) on the fence, the spotlight could be on Jeudy, whose athleticism and superb route-running made him a star at Alabama.
The 2020 first-rounder (15th overall) has yet to truly break out for Denver and has had issues with drops, but he’s been consistently productive thus far, tallying between 55 and 62 receiving yards in each of his first four NFL games while averaging 15.6 yards per catch. He also hauled in a highlight-reel touchdown against the Jets. Patriots coach Bill Belichick called Jeudy “tremendous” last week.