Game night is getting closer and closer – as we are approximately 48 hours away now from kickoff. While the Patriots come into the game as lopsided 13.5-point favorites over the Denver Broncos, for the Patriots to win, they’ll have to play a pretty good game. The following is the three keys to victory – a formula that could be the difference between the AFC Championship game or going home for another long offseason:
1. Start Fast – The Patriots have made a bad habit particularly of late going down big early in games. Week 17 (21-0 against Buffalo), week 16 (17-0 against Miami) and week 15 when they got down 16-7 in the first half against the Broncos. How did Denver get out to a quick lead over New England? Well for starters, the defense can’t afford to give up 167 rushing yards in the first quarter alone. A combination of adjustment and the Patriots’ offense getting out in front tamed the running game. That being said the defense needs to be more stout in this go-around. For the Patriots to start out stronger as a team, the offense needs to put points on the board early to help ease the emotions and give the defense an early lift. Ideas to combat the Patriots slow start of late offensively could be to start the game in the no-huddle or to take an early shot down the field to get moving quickly.
2. Avoid giving up the big play – Had it not been for the Denver Broncos to make long yardage plays against Pittsburgh last week, they would not be here. The Steelers dared Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow to throw last time out and he ended up throwing for 316 yards and the game-winning 80-yard touchdown strike to speedster Demaryius Thomas. Look for the Patriots to throw a completely different gameplan at Tebow and the Denver offense because if the Patriots load up the box and play one-on-one man on the outside with their corners they won’t give up 29 like Pittsburgh, they’ll give up 50. Look for New England to come out playing a lot of zone coverage while sending only three or four rushers, and not taking too many chances at blitzing Tebow. The Patriots will make Tebow sustain long drives for them to score and while New England will give up points like they have all season, the hope is they will limit the Broncos enough to allow the Patriots’ offensive juggernaut to outpace them.
3. Big game for either Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez – This is a must to avoid the sputtering offense New England has thrown out there is their past three postseason contests. Last year Welker and Branch were shut down against the New York Jets in the playoffs, and no one else was able to rise up to the occasion. The difference this year going into the playoffs is Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady has three legitimate guys he can count on when he needs a big play. Welker (122 catches), Gronkowski (90) and Hernandez (79) were all relied on to carry the load at times in the regular season. Against the Broncos, it was Hernandez who had the big day. He reeled in nine balls for 129 yards and a score. While he may not be the go to guy this time around, one of the Patriots “Big Three” will have to step up to help ensure the Broncos’ pass rush isn’t unleashed.
all statistics courtesy of patriots.com
photo courtesy of patriots.com