Sunday, January 8, 2012
Quick Take: Broncos at Patriots
By James Walker
Three things to know about Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game between the Denver Broncos (9-8) and New England Patriots (13-3):
1. Patriots get the easiest draw: Last week the AFC East blog did a poll asking readers which team they thought was the easiest opponent for the Patriots. Overwhelmingly, respondents selected Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos -- and for good reason. The Broncos are the easiest possible matchup of the four AFC teams playing on wild-card weekend. New England manhandled Denver in Week 15 and cruised to a 41-23 victory. The chances of Tebow outdueling Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on the road in the rematch are very slim. I think this is as close to a free pass as New England can get in the postseason. The Patriots were close to hosting the reigning AFC champion Steelers, who beat New England in the regular season. But Denver did New England a big favor by knocking out Pittsburgh in overtime. Now, the Patriots have a much easier path to get to the AFC Championship Game.
2. Josh McDaniels factor: The timing for New England to rehire Josh McDaniels is impeccable. The former Broncos head coach will rejoin the Patriots' staff this week as an offensive assistant. McDaniels eventually will replace offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien next season when O'Brien goes to Penn State. But McDaniels will be key this week to help the Patriots better understand Denver's personnel. McDaniels coached Denver from 2009-10 and was responsible for Denver drafting Tebow. McDaniels should be able to provide plenty of inside knowledge on Tebow and many players on Denver's roster.
3. One-and-done pressure: Expect there to be a lot of talk of New England avoiding a third consecutive one-and-done postseason. The Patriots' Hall of Fame tandem of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick were stellar in the postseason from 2001-07. But lately the pair are 0-2 in their last two playoff games and haven't won in the postseason since the end of the 2007 season. It's been a four-year drought for Brady and Belichick and there are no excuses this year. New England is playing well, healthy and has a favorable matchup in the divisional round. The Patriots could do themselves a huge favor by beating Denver and getting that one-and-done monkey off their back.