The New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos are playing in the same conference, and have a storied history, but have still not crossed paths since November 2017. Back then, the two teams played a regular season game in Denver that saw the visitors dominate from start to finish: the Patriots dismantled the Broncos 41-16 in a game that was never particularly close and featured two teams on the opposite end of the NFL’s power spectrum that year.
Before getting too much into the specifics, however, let’s take a look at how the two teams have changed since their last meeting.
The following 13 players from the teams’ last meeting on November 12, 2017, are still on the Patriots’ active roster:
RB Rex Burkhead, DT Adam Butler, LS Joe Cardona, CB Stephon Gilmore, DT Lawrence Guy, QB Brian Hoyer, CB Jonathan Jones, G Shaq Mason, S Devin McCourty, WR Matthew Slater, G Joe Thuney, RB James White, DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
Offense: Besides the two biggest changes — Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski leaving — the Patriots also saw some additional turnover on the offensive side of the ball. Julian Edelman is back in the lineup after having missed all of 2017 due to a torn ACL. The rest of New England’s skill position personnel also experienced considerable change, with only running backs Rex Burkhead and James White remaining. The offensive line remains comparatively intact even with David Andrews currently on injured reserve: guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason are still around.
Defense: This year’s offseason has impacted the Patriots defense quite a bit, with three of 2017’s starters leaving the club: Patrick Chung opted out, while Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts left in free agency. Furthermore, key reserve Duron Harmon was traded. With Trey Flowers, Alan Branch and Malcolm Butler all long gone as well, you get quite a bit of personnel turnover since 2017. Nevertheless, six players still remain that were part of that defense — including three members of the team’s starting secondary.
Special teams: While Joe Cardona and Matthew Slater remain in New England as core special teamers, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen and safety Nate Ebner are no longer part of the equation. Allen left the team in 2019 after losing the training camp competition against Jake Bailey, with Gostkowski and Ebner departing earlier this year.
Coaching staff: While the likes of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are still running the show in New England, the rest of the coaching staff saw quite a bit of turnover. The most prominent departees are long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who retired this offseason and was replaced by Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo, as well as defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Since Patricia’s departure after the 2017 season, the Patriots are operating with an official coordinator on that side of the ball.
The following five players from the teams’ last meeting on November 12, 2017, are still with the Broncos:
T Garett Bolles, DE Shelby Harris, LB Joseph Jones, K Brandon McManus, S Justin Simmons
Offense: The last time the Broncos took on the Patriots, the team’s offensive looked drastically different. In fact only starting left tackle Garett Bolles remains from that last meeting that featured quarterback Brock Osweiler throw passes to the likes of (future short-time Patriot) Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. All three are long gone, as are the rest of the offense Denver fielded that day and season. This is rather unsurprisingly considering that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired just eight days after the contest — with the rest of the offensive staff eventually following.
Defense: The two core defenders remaining from the last Patriots-Broncos game saw considerable action back in November 2017: while Shelby Harris played 44 of 70 defensive snaps, while Justin Simmons did not leave the field at all. The rest of Denver’s defense, however, has changed significantly over the last three years — be it because of injury or because of other reasons for departure. The most notable is linebacker Von Miller, who will miss the entire 2020 season after hurting his ankle in early September.
Special teams: Denver’s kicking game operation saw some turnover as well since 2017, but is still comparatively stable: place kicker Brandon McManus is still around, as is core special teamer Joseph Jones. Both are expected to play prominent roles again on Sunday — as are new departures such as punter Sam Martin and long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer.
Coaching staff: Just like the Broncos’ roster, their staff, as mentioned above, has also changed quite a bit. Head coach Vance Joseph was fired after the 2018 season, with Vic Fangio replacing him. The new head coach also brought his own assistants across the board, with only four remaining from the organization’s 2017 campaign: defensive line and linebacker coaches Bill Kollar and Reggie Herring are still around, as are defensive and special teams assistants Chris Beake and Chris Gould, respectively.