AFC East: Broncos-Patriots Divisional 2011

Final Word: Broncos at Patriots

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:30
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Broncos-Patriots divisional-round game:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesNew England QB Tom Brady is seeking his first playoff victory in four years.
Brady's playoff pressure: Perhaps no player has more pressure to win Saturday's game than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer hasn't won a playoff game in four years and his window for another championship is closing. Brady was 14-2 in his first 16 career playoff games. That run led to three Super Bowls early in his career. But lately Brady is 0-3 in the playoffs, including two one-and-done years in 2009 and 2010. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brady is trying to avoid becoming the fifth quarterback in NFL history to lose four consecutive playoff games. If Brady beats Denver, his 15 playoff victories would be No. 2 all-time behind Joe Montana (16).

Gronk or Hernandez? New England tight end Aaron Hernandez had it right. This week he told reporters that the Broncos have to "pick your poison" on which tight end to defend. In Week 15, the Broncos chose to pay a lot of attention to Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Hernandez had a big game. Hernandez torched Denver for nine catches, 129 yards and a touchdown in a 41-23 victory. Gronkowski saw a lot of double coverage and caught just four passes for 53 yards, one of his lowest outputs of the season. The question is, will Denver adjust or keep the same strategy? Hernandez and Gronkowski are both capable of big games, and the pair needs to stay ready.

O-line at full strength: The Patriots are coming off a bye week and are as healthy as they've been in months. Two key offensive linemen are expected to return for the playoffs. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) and starting offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) both practiced this week. Protecting Brady will be key. New England throws the ball a lot, and the line has to protect him from Denver pass-rushing specialists Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

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