Coming off a chaotic weekend and hard-fought loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots return home and to meet another team from the AFC West: the Denver Broncos will come to town, giving Bill Belichick’s team a prime opportunity to get back into the win column and to stay in striking distance of the AFC East lead.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 1-3 (3rd place AFC West)
Points scored: 28th (20.5/game)
Points against: 14th (24.5/game)
Head coach: Vic Fangio
Coordinators: Pat Shurmur (OC), Ed Donatell (DC), Tom McMahon (ST)
Vic Fangio’s staff in Denver features plenty of prominent assistant coaches. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, offensive line coach Mike Munchak and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula previously served as head coaches in New York, Tennessee and at Alabama, respectively, while three of four position coaches working under defensive coordinator Ed Donatell have 30-plus years of coaching experience under their belt.
Season so far
Week 1 vs Tennessee Titans: L 14-16
Week 2 at Pittsburgh Steelers: L 21-26
Week 3 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: L 10-28
Week 4 at New York Jets: W 37-28
The Broncos started their season winless, with close defeats against the Titans and Steelers followed by a rather lop-sided home loss against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Despite the losses and the team’s injury count starting to mount, Vic Fangio’s team was able to register its first victory of the season: visiting the putrid Jets on Thursday night — giving the team some additional rest versus New England — Denver won with a final score of 37-28.
Including playoffs, the Patriots and Broncos have met 53 times so far:
- Patriots wins: 30 wins (4 playoff wins)
- Broncos wins: 23 wins (1 playoff win)
The Patriots’ history with the Broncos goes all the way back to the first ever game of the old American Football League back in 1960. The then-Boston Patriots were beaten 13-10 that day — a sign of things to come, as the Broncos currently lead the series 30-23, including a 4-1 record in the playoffs.
Along the way, there have been some prominent moments. From the Patriots’ battles against John Elway the quarterback and later John Elway the general manager, to New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leading the team to victory over his mentor, Bill Belichick, in 2009. Add thrillers such as the so-called Intentional Grounding Game in 2003, the 2013 come-from-behind victory over Peyton Manning and the highest-scoring team in football, or the 2015 AFC Championship Game and you get a storied history.
Projected starting lineups
QB Brett Rypien; RB Melvin Gordon III; WR Tim Patrick, WR Jerry Jeudy*, WR DaeSean Hamilton; TE Noah Fant; LT Garett Bolles, LG Dalton Risner, C Lloyd Cushenberry III*, RG Graham Glasgow, RT Demar Dotson
The biggest question entering the game from the Broncos’ perspective is the same the Patriots have: Who will start at quarterback? Nominal starter Drew Lock has been out since suffering a shoulder injury early during his team’s Week 2 game in Pittsburgh, after all. While there is a 50/50 chance Lock will eventually be good to go, according to his head coach, New England will have to prepare for second-year man Brett Rypien as well.
NT Mike Purcell, DE Shelby Harris; OLB Bradley Chubb, ILB A.J. Johnson, ILB Josey Jewell, OLB Malik Reed; CB Bryce Callahan, CB Michael Ojemudia*, CB Essang Bassey*, SS Kareem Jackson, FS Justin Simmons
With star linebacker Von Miller, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye on injured reserve, the Broncos have to rely on their youth to get the job done on defense this season. While front-line players Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris have looked very good so far, the secondary — despite having veterans Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons at safety — is a different story: rookies Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey are both projected to see extensive playing time on Sunday.
K Brandon McManus, P Sam Martin, LS Jacob Bobenmoyer*, PR/KR Diontae Spencer
The Broncos’ special teams units are led by two veterans: place kicker Brandon McManus and free agency acquisition Sam Martin at punter. Joining them is a rookie long snapper as well as a kick return who may not stand out on kickoffs but who has proven himself in the punt return game: Diontae Spencer is averaging 13.7 yards per runback this season when used in the punting game.
Three things to watch
1. Who will lead the Patriots offense... As noted above, New England’s quarterback situation is unclear at the moment: Cam Newton tested positive for Covid-19 last Friday, and is reportedly unlikely to be available come Sunday. This means that either Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham will get the start, with the latter the favorite after Hoyer’s disastrous performance against the Chiefs on Monday night — one that led to the veteran getting benched in favor of Stidham.
2. ...and will it get back on track? While the Patriots moved the football efficiently at times in Kansas City, it struggled to finish drives and hold onto the football: with Hoyer and Stidham both losing two turnovers each, New England quickly moved itself out of the contest. With a full week to prepare one of the two for the starting gig this week, the unit will likely be able to operate more efficiently. And yet, cutting down on individual errors like the ones made on Monday will be key.
3. Can the defense carry over its Week 4 momentum? After some so-so games over the first three weeks of the season, the Patriots’ defense looked outstanding going against a high-powered Chiefs offense — limiting it to two touchdowns and 19 total points. The question now becomes whether or not the unit can effectively build on this performance and return to become the dominant unit it was in 2019. If so, the Broncos might be in for a long day.