Patriots Renew Rivalry With Peyton Manning, Broncos

By: Michael Robinson | Thursday, October 4, 2012

The New England Patriots face an old foe on Sunday in quarterback Peyton Manning, this time as a member of the Denver Broncos.

The Don Best Pro Odds screen opened New England as 6½-point favorites, but it’s now moved up to -7 at some wagering outlets. The total is a healthy 51½ and CBS will have the late afternoon broadcast from Gillette Stadium at 4:25 p.m. (ET).

New England (2-2 straight up, 3-1 against the spread) has had a tough start and is already chasing elite teams like Houston (4-0) and Baltimore (3-1) in the AFC. The Ravens already own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots after beating them at home (31-30) two weeks ago in a thriller.

Despite the Patriots’ .500 record, the Don Best Linemakers Poll still ranks them second in the AFC (100.1 rating) behind Houston. Denver (97.4) is fifth in the conference.

Coach Bill Belichick’s team is fortunate to be 2-2 after a mammoth comeback at Buffalo last week. Trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and company scored 35 unanswered points in less than 13 minutes (52-28 final).

Brady threw for 340 yards and three TDS, but the bigger news was the 247 team rushing yards. Stevan Ridley has looked very good overall in his second year, but it was undrafted free agent Brandon Bolden who burst onto the scene with 137 yards on 16 carries.

With the running game going, New England can really click offensively with the middle of the field open for Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Denver’s defense ranks seventh in the league in total yards (308 YPG), but is certainly vulnerable this week on the road.

The Patriots home crowd will be demanding a good performance this week. The only home game so far was a shocking 20-18 loss to Arizona as 13-point favorites in Week 2. The team went 9-1 SU (5-5 ATS) at Gillette last year including the playoffs.

The Broncos (2-2 SU and ATS) are coming off a much-needed 37-6 home win over Oakland as 6½-point favorites. Manning (96.9 rating, ranked 10th) has been up-and-down this season after signing as a free agent and coming off neck surgery. He was great last Sunday (30-of-38 for 338 yards, three TDS) with the porous and injured Raiders ‘D’ a reason.

Running back Willis McGahee also shook off a ribs injury to rush for 112 yards on 19 carries. He is important to take the pressure off Manning, especially against better defenses.

The 36-year-old Manning had had success against Belichick’s defense the last few meetings while playing for Indy. Look for him to attack the middle of the field against the Pats suspect safety tandem of Patrick Chung and Steven Gregory (questionable, hip).

New England’s defense is improved some at 366.8 YPG (ranked 20th), but is still very young and susceptible to the big play. Rookie Dont’a Hightower (hamstring) is questionable, and his absence would be a big blow to an already thin linebacker core.

An interesting development is that Denver center J.D. Walton (ankle) is on injured reserve, which means longtime former Patriot Dan Koppen will start.

These teams met in the Divisional Playoff round last year. New England absolutely pasted the Broncos at home 45-10, but that was with Tim Tebow at quarterback. It won’t be nearly as easy against Manning.

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