NFL Nation: Broncos-Patriots Divisional 2011

Final Word: Broncos at Patriots

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
1:33
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Saints-49ers | Broncos-Patriots | Texans-Ravens | Giants-Packers

Three nuggets of knowledge about the Denver Broncos-New England Patriots AFC Divisional playoff game:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireWill Tim Tebow play like he did against Pittsburgh or revert back to the last time he played New England?
Broncos have had success against Patriots: Yes, the Patriots beat the Broncos 26 days ago in Denver 41-23. However, the Broncos have had a lot of success against the Patriots in the recent past. New England is 4-6 (including the playoffs) against Denver in the Bill Belichick era. It’s New England’s worst record against any team in the NFL. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was six years ago to the day of Saturday’s meeting in the divisional round. Denver (in its last playoff win before the stunner over the Steelers) beat the Patriots, 27-13. It was Belichick’s and New England quarterback Tom Brady's first postseason loss. Brady is 2-6 lifetime against Denver.

Playoff streaking the wrong way: The Patriots have lost two straight home playoff games. Before the road bump, which began in 2009, New England won 11 straight home playoff games. Something will give Saturday because Denver has lost three straight road playoff games. Denver is looking for its first road playoff win since the 1997 AFC championship game in Pittsburgh. Denver went on to win its first Super Bowl title that year. The Broncos, who are big underdogs for the second straight week, are facing some big odds. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that had to play on a Saturday after playing the previous Sunday are 4-14 since 1990.

Broncos need to be more consistent this time: The Broncos' offense started strong against New England in Week 15. It had a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter before the Broncos fumbled three times in their own territory in the quarter. New England turned the miscues in 13 direct points. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver averaged 10.9 yards per play against New England and it averaged just 4.6 yards per play in the final three quarters. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow was sacked four times in the final three quarters. Denver had 218 yards in the first quarter but managed just 175 yards for the rest of the game. The Broncos obviously need a more sustained effort Saturday.

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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