Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) throws against the PIttsburgh Steelers in the second quarter of an NFL wild card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
For the next two days, we're going to do in-depth scouting reports on the two big AFC divisional playoff games. First up: Pats/Broncos.
The Teams: The New England Patriots vs. the Denver Broncos
Records: 13-3 (Pats), 10-7 (Broncos)
The Line: Patriots by 13.5. Oh, great. That's all we need: An even BIGGER line for Tebow to overcome.
The Coaches: Bill Belichick vs. John Fox. Did you know that John Fox has won a playoff game more recently (last week) than Bill Belichick (2007)? That totally means Fox is the better coach. Anyway, it's worth noting here that Belichick is something of a Tebow groupie and has been known in the past to trade football knowledge with Urban Meyer, Tebow's former coach. That deep knowledge of all things Tebow didn't prevent the Broncos QB from scoring twice on the ground the last time these teams met, but I'm sure the King of the Hobos has more diabolical things in store.
The Offenses: The Broncos took a 16-7 led over the Pats last time around, then watched helplessly as Tom Brady and the New England offense ripped off 27 straight points. The Pats possess one of the three virtually indefensible offenses in the NFL right now (NE, NO, GB). To give you an idea of how versatile the Pats are, consider that tight end Aaron Hernandez was, statistically speaking, the third best tight end in the entire NFL this season, and he's not even the best TE on his own squad. Rob Gronkowski caught seven million TD passes, and WELKAHHHHH will get his fair share as well. The Broncos will have a healthier Von Miller for this game, but they're gonna need Tebow to be as prolific this week as he was against the Steelers to have any hope of keeping up.
As for the Broncos, the formula is simple: Run a lot, then throw deep to Demaryius Thomas. I can't imagine the Pats will let Thomas run free like the Steelers did last week. That was baffling.
The Defenses: Like I said, Von Miller will be near full strength this time around for Denver, and the Broncos have two very good corners (Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman) on hand to deal with Welker and Deion Branch. But those tight ends... hoo boy. No one else was able to stop them this season, so I see no reason why the Broncos should be any different.
As for the Pats defense, you already know that it's a mess, with cornerback Kyle Arrington being the weakest link of all. Expect second-year man Devin McCourty to be given the task of covering Thomas, with lots and lots of safety help. Remember: the Broncos lost WR Eric Decker for the season last week, so it's Thomas or nothing.
Key Matchup: Thomas vs. McCourty. If Thomas gets free, this is a game. If he doesn't, this is a blowout, regardless of all that destiny business.