Lowly Patriots looking to upset playoff-hopeful Broncos
The New England Patriots are staring down the barrel of their worst season since 1992. After the 27-17 Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, New England is 3-11 and currently holds the No. 2 pick in the 2024 NFL draft. That could change from now until the end of the season, but everything points toward the organization looking to make some changes. In the more immediate future, however, the Patriots take on the Broncos on Sunday Night Football, where they are at on the spread.
The Denver Broncos are the 11th seed in the AFC with a record of 7-7 at the moment, but they’re still in the playoff bubble despite a 42-17 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 15. Both the Patriots and Broncos have had top-10 defenses in expected points added since Week 8, per PFF, but bottom-half offenses, also per PFF. The difference is that the Broncos have been finding ways to win thanks to creating turnovers on defense and doing just enough on offense.
Patriots might have to play clean offensive football to win
New England has struggled to generate any sort of offense this season. It ranks dead last in points scored per game (13.3) and is bottom-five in offensive yards gained per game (285.3). The Patriots gained just 206 yards of total offense against the Chiefs in Week 15. Still, as good as the Broncos’ defense has been since Week 8, much of that success has come from the unit’s ability to generate turnovers.
Since Week 8, the Denver defense has forced 17 turnovers, more than anyone else in the NFL. That’s led to defensive touchdowns and excellent field position for a struggling offense, giving the Broncos an easier path to converting those turnovers into points. However, when the defense doesn’t generate turnovers, the Broncos don’t typically win. It happened against the Houston Texans in Week 13, and it happened against the Detroit Lions in Week 15. Those are the Broncos’ two losses in their last eight games, and they struggled to force turnovers in either of them. On top of that, they allowed over 800 yards of total offense.
Broncos’ path to victory likely includes pushing the ball downfield
The Denver offense has steadily improved with Sean Payton in the building. Last season, they were a bottom-five offense by most metrics. They’re still a bottom-10 unit in EPA per play, according to PFF, but the signs of improvement are evident. Russell Wilson is playing much cleaner, more efficient football, completing 66.3% of his passes for 2,832 yards and 24 touchdowns. He may not be the game-changing quarterback of a few years ago, but Wilson is ending up in positions where he can affect the game without shouldering too much of the load.
However, the Broncos may need to lean into his arm if they want to win this game. The New England defense is one of the better units in the NFL, and it has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game this season. Attacking the Patriots through the air is one of the best chances of succeeding for the Broncos. The Patriots are 22nd in EPA per play allowed in coverage this season, according to PFF, with 71 explosive pass plays.
Wilson has a passer rating of 120.3 when targeting Courtland Sutton on passes of 20 yards or more, and Sutton has the sixth-most catches (11) and fourth-most touchdowns (four) on those deep targets in the NFL.
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Broncos vs. Patriots head to head
|Offense Ranking OFF RNK
|Defense Ranking DEF RNK
|Offense Net Yards Per Game OFF NET YPG
|Defense Net Yards Per Game DEF NET YPG
|Passing Yards Per Game PASS YPG
|Turnovers Committed Per Game TOC PG
Broncos vs. Patriots injury report: Who’s out, who’s starting
Patriots’ tight end Hunter Henry left the Week 15 loss to the Chiefs with a knee injury and didn’t return. He’s been a regular feature in the passing game this season and has the most receiving touchdowns on the team. New England will also be without guard Cole Strange, who is on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury against the Chiefs.
The Broncos were without Nik Bonitto and Greg Dulcich in the Week 15 loss to the Lions, and while Bonitto could be back in time, it’s likely that Dulcich still isn’t ready after suffering a hamstring injury.
New England Patriots Week 16 injury update: Rhamondre Stevenson questionable
Denver Broncos Week 16 injury update: Greg Dulcich likely out
|Snaps/g Snaps Per Game
|Uwazurike has been suspended indefinitely due to violating the league’s gambling policy.
|Turner-Yell is recovering from a torn ACL and is expected to miss the start of the 2024-25 season.