New England Patriots (11-2 SU, 10-3 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (8-5 SU, 8-5 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday December 18th 4:25 PM EST
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -3 / DEN +3
The New England Patriots head west to Denver for a Sunday afternoon showdown against the Broncos in a pivotal AFC matchup with major playoff seeding implications. New England currently has a slim one game lead over Kansas City and Oakland for the top seed in the conference, which is imperative for them to earn for home field advantage as the Patriots have gone 14-3 in Foxboro during the playoffs under Bill Belichick but just 8-6 away from Gillette Stadium. Denver on the other hand is barely holding onto the final wild card spot by way of tiebreaker over Miami with the Ravens and Titans just a game behind, and to make matters worse for the Broncos they face the hardest remaining schedule of any other team in the league with three 10 win teams awaiting them (Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders) to end their regular season.
This week’s game will be a rematch of the AFC Championship back in January that Denver won 20-18. After trailing throughout the game the Patriots were able to score a touchdown with just twelve seconds left, but a two point conversation attempt (that was necessary thanks to a missed Stephen Gostowski extra point earlier in the game) fell short and the Broncos went on two weeks later to beat Carolina for their third Super Bowl championship.
Traveling to Colorado has rarely gone well for the Patriots, having gone just 3-18 in their last 21 road games against the Broncos and having let up at least 19 points in every game. Denver also remains one of only two teams in the league that Tom Brady has a losing record against with a 5-6 mark through all 11 games all time against the Broncos, though despite the under .500 result he has consistently put up decent stats against their AFC West foe with a 23/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Brady continued his dominant success over the rest of the NFL last week against Baltimore, which came in ranked as the top defense in the league and was eviscerated by the Patriots for just under 500 yards of offense. The win added another accolade to Brady’s resume, as he tied the NFL record for wins in December by a quarterback with the 52nd of his career and has now posted a last month of the year record of 52-10. In comparison, the person Brady is briefly tied with is Brett Favre, who has 15 more losses while going 52-25. The win was also the teams 86th straight at home when leading at the half and 91st in a row when up after the 3rd quarter.
While the Patriots offense continues to hit on all cylinders, the Broncos struggled again last week in a disappointing 13-10 performance against the Titans. Their running game continued to falter since the injury to C.J. Anderson six weeks ago and last week rushed nine times for just 18 yards on the ground and has now scored a rushing touchdown just once in the past five games. With Anderson and Kapri Bibbs both on IR and now starter Devontae Booker averaging under three yards per carry over the past six weeks, the Broncos were forced to signed Justin Forsett last week, who was able to find previous success playing under now head coach Gary Kubiak. How much he can help their offense remains to be seen, but nearly anything is an improvement over an anemic rushing attack that ranks near the bottom of the league barrel at 27th.
The ground game isn’t the only part of the offense that has had issues for Denver, as they rank just 19th in passing and 25th in yards per game (in comparison the Patriots rank in the top five offensively in passing, scoring and yards per game). The teams are also a stark contrast in in how they have managed to start games throughout their respective 2016 seasons, as while the Patriots have outscored their opponents in the first quarter in 11 of their 13 games, the Broncos have done so only once all year. Despite the poor statistical showing, Denver second year quarterback Trevor Siemian has played far better than many expected and appears like he has a good chance of being the future starter for the team. Siemian was a 7th round pick in 2015 and was thrust into the starting role this season after Peyton Manning retired and the Houston Texans decided to spend way too much money on last year’s other Broncos starter Brock Osweiller. He has developed an equal rapport with wide receiver standouts Demaryious Thomas (76 receptions/5 touchdowns) and Emmanuel Sanders (75 receptions/5 touchdowns), and his importance to the offense was made all the more evident when he recently missed time to a left foot ailment and the team was stuck in neutral when rookie Paxton Lynch was forced to take his place.
Defensively Denver has fared much better and ranks 1st against the pass and 3rd in yards against. Their leader continues to be Von Miller, who decimated the Patriots in the January AFC championship by recording 2.5 sacks and one interception as he was constantly in the Patriots backfield either stopping a running play or harassing Tom Brady on nearly every passing play. The defense though has been susceptible to the run (29th in the NFL) and may still be missing two of their top five tacklers as linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall remain questionable to play for Sunday’s game. This would in turn pose a major problem for a defense already struggling against the run and now having to go up against Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who set a career high in rushing yards last week by getting to 1,029 on the season while also scoring his league leading 14th rushing touchdown.
It is never easy to take New England in Denver, especially when giving points, but this week I would recommend going in that direction. The Patriots have looked like the league’s best since falling to Seattle three weeks back and should have beaten the Ravens by a lot more than seven points last week if not for fumble-prone rookie Cyrus Jones turning punt returns into a Benny Hill sketch and single-handedly getting Baltimore back into a ball game they had been dominated in up until the special teams miscues. New England also has a monumental advantage on both sides of the running game, especially on defense where they have held opponents to just 142 yards rushing on 50 carries through the last three games and now face a Denver backfield that has struggled mightily since losing C.J. Anderson to injury. The home team has beaten the spread in the last seven games between the teams, but that streak will come to an end on Sunday at Mile High with the Patriots getting the road win and cover against the Broncos in Denver.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -3
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