Friday, October 31, 2003

Patriots vs. Broncos Preview (10/31/2003)

The first piece of bad news about Monday night's game against Denver is that
7 out of 8 ESPN analysts picked the Patriots. When the national press starts kicking it in gear, giving the other team bulletin board material and something to prove -- that's when your team sometimes stumbles. The other bit of (potential) bad news is that whatever Bill Belichick has been doing to help cover for his team's youth and inexperience, you can bet Mike Shannahan has seen it and is prepared to exploit it. He's that good a coach, and his teams usually come out strong and go for the early knockout -- so surviving the first 20 minutes with a lead or no more than 10-point deficit is crucial to their chances to win.

The good news is that the Patriots haven't overlooked teams or play half-assed very often (first half against the Giants, and maybe a bit of the Cleveland game). They must know that a 7-2 record would allow them to coast into the playoffs (3-4 gets them there, 4-3 means a first round bye), and they also have an extra week to recover from and think about this game. So you know they won't be taking the Broncos lightly and will give absolute maximum effort to make sure the two weeks between games bring positives from the press and their coach.

The another advantage for the Pats is they've already played the Broncos on the road this season -- in Week 7 in Miami. The only real differences between this game and the Week 7 tilt are that the Dolphins have a better quarterback and the Broncos have a better coaching staff. Both opponents run the ball well and have questions about whether or not their QBs can win the game for them. Danny Kanell is inexperienced, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Bill Belichick use the "46" defense (five defensive lineman) to stop the run and dare Kanell to beat him through the air -- just as he did in Miami.

Lastly, Bill Belichick's only head coaching win against the Broncos was in Denver (2000 season), and you know that 1-6 lifetime record has to be eating away at him. He just doesn't take losing well. The Pats played well in Denver in 2001, but Tom Brady threw the first, second, third, and fourth interceptions of his career (all in the fourth quarter) and the Pats lost -- so there is a history of Bill B. getting teams to play well in Denver.

Again, look for Denver to try the quick strike to get the lead, but even if they do, look for the Patriots to survive that strike and be back at even by the half. The Broncos have played only one defense as good as the Patriots this year -- and they lost that game 26-6 to Baltimore. I expect the Pats to win; though I doubt it'll be a Monday night blowout. How's 24-14 sound?

Enjoy the game,

- Scott

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