1. Stop the Run - The last time these two teams squared off, the Broncos were able to rack up plenty of yards, regardless of the runner. Willis McGahee was on fire until he was injured- and then Lance Ball picked up the torch. Tim Tebow threw in a few great runs of his own. The key to slowing the Broncos is to slow their run attack, while not opening up the deep portion of the field. Maintain gaps and don't bite on the play action. In Week 15, the Broncos were able to run wild without any trickery; they just dominated the Patriots. The Patriots will have to step up their game to win this match-up.
Look for the Patriots to operate with a single gap 5 man front (I'm thinking Anderson - Deaderick - Love - Wilfork, with Ninkovich on the line) as they try to avoid getting washed away by double teams on the offensive line. Hopefully Pat Chung and Brandon Spikes can play at a high level to clean up any potential runs.
2. 3rd Down Defense - The Broncos converted 30.8% of their 3rd downs during the regular season. The Patriots allowed 43.1% of opposing 3rd downs to convert. It's like the stoppable force meets the moveable object. Hopefully the Patriots can find a way to get Tebow and the Broncos offense off the field and back into Tom Brady's hands. The longer the Patriots have the ball on offense, the greater chances they have of scoring and the greater chance the Patriots have of winning.
3. Pressure Tebow - Tebow has trouble throwing while under pressure. His completion percentage drops from 52.8% to 34.0% when he's under pressure and his QBR falls from 91.4 to 49.6. Tebow's most accurate when he's throwing down the field and pressure prevents his receivers routes from fully developing and forced Tebow to make a throw he does not want to make.
Unfortunately, the Patriots have trouble generating consistent pressure with three or four people on the defensive line. Hopefully the Patriots chase Tebow with 4-5 players at all times and prevent him from establishing himself as both a quarterback and as a player. I hope the coaching staff took notes on the Chiefs and Bills games and saw how those teams confounded Tebow and the Broncos offense.
Also, look for the Patriots to force Tebow to his right. In the regular season, he was 45.5% on 90 attempts for 683 yards to his left, 64.9% on 97 attempts for 881 to his middle, and 40.5% on 79 attempts for 481 to his right. Clearly, Tebow is most comfortable rolling to his dominant left side. By forcing Tebow to roll out to his right and to throw across his body, the Patriots might be able to take advantage of an errant throw.
4. Offensive Protection - The last few playoff games, the Patriots offensive line has been disastrous which has led the offense to stall. The offense is the driving force of the Patriots team and they will be squaring off against two of the best pass rushers in the AFC in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The offensive line is dinged up and will have to pull together and play at a high level in order to protect Brady and also assert dominance in the run game. If the offensive line can hold, the Patriots offense should have an easier time moving down the field.
5. 60 Minutes - Tebow Time. Should I say anything more?