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Saturday, November 23, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 12: Broncos vs Patriots

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots: DEN -2 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Looking for an interesting point spread in Week 12? Look no further than the Sunday Night Football game between the Broncos and the Patriots. A week ago Las Vegas had the Broncos as -3 point favorites. After the dust settled on the weekend, sportsbooks reopened them at -2.5. 

There hasn't been much movement ever since. If the line goes to -3 you can be sure that a lot of sharp money will come piling in on the Patriots. With the line under a field goal, most of the bets are coming in on the road team (63 percent). 

Keep an eye on

Last week was a big test for both of these teams. The Broncos were going up against the best defense (on paper) and came away with a convincing win. Even if they lost they probably would've stayed at the top of most offensive rankings, but there is not many teams have been able to shut down Peyton Manning this year.

I don't expect that to change much on Sunday night. We can talk all day about what Peyton's history is in colder weather in New England, but keep in mind the Broncos defense is much better than what he had in Indy. 

So how do the Patriots stop him? They've resembled a bend-but-don't-break unit all year. Between the 20s they are terrible on third down, average against the run, and slightly better than average against the pass. Once opponents reach the red zone, the Patriots rank in the top 10 and usually force field goals. Under normal circumstances, that would go encouraging. However, they've been trending down over recent weeks, and injuries are piling up. 

The most concerning area is in their secondary where their top three cornerbacks are all banged up. The key guy is Talib. When he's off the field, it has a trickle down effect on the rest of the defense. He didn't finish the game last week, and only time will tell how effective he will be on Sunday. The Patriots are never up front about their injury list.

For Denver, Wes Welker is listed as probable, so he should be primed for a big game against his former team. Julius Thomas is more of a question mark, and his absence would make life a lot easier for the Pats. Either way, I see a big advantage for Denver's passing game - especially if Talib can't go.

Even more concerning for New England could be what happens in the fourth quarter. If they are trailing, it might be tough for them to get the ball back. They are so decimated in the middle of the defensive line that Denver should be able to make enough successful runs to keep the clock running.

If the Patriots are going to win this game, they'll not only need a great game from Brady, but also from their special teams. The good news for them is they've ranked near the top of the NFL for special teams all year. This has given them one of the better average starting field positions too. 

Most of the focus will be on containing Von Miller. He picked up right where he left off before his suspension. In only four games, ProFootballFocus has him graded as the best outside linebacker in the league. For this game, he gets to line up opposite backup tackle Marcus Cannon. There's no doubt that New England will do things to give that side help, but Miller can be used in a variety of ways - primarily as an inside blitzing joker. 

It should also be no surprise that the Broncos pass defense has gradually improved since Miller's return. They might not be an elite secondary, but it's hard to judge just how good this unit can be since Miller and Bailey have missed so much time. Brady has also picked up his play over recent weeks, but their offense isn't upper-tier either.  

Now that Gronk is fully back, the Patriots do have a whole new set of options when they snap the ball though. His most underrated skill is his blocking ability, so I wouldn't be surprised if New England went for some power football in this game. The Chiefs abandoned their run game much too early last week, but I'd be surprised if Belichick made the same mistake.

Bottom Line

I don't think there's any debate that the Broncos offense have the upper hand in this game. The big question is what happens when Brady has the ball. Do they go hurry-up and limit Miller's impact on the game? Or do they grind out the clock and keep Peyton off the field?  

Whichever direction the Patriots go, I think they're going to come up short. They're too injured on the defensive side of the ball and I need to see more from their offense before I fully buy in.  Give me the Broncos at anything under a field goal.

NFL Pick: DEN -2. 
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