ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For over a decade, the New England Patriots have been the closest thing to unbeatable the NFL has seen.
The keyword, of course, being closest.
The defending champs have again proven to be Super Bowl contenders this year, starting the season 6-2. After a shaky 2-2 start to the season, that isn’t uncommon to them, the Patriots have bounced back—riding a four-game win streak—and are again among the best teams in the AFC and entire NFL.
Fortunately for the 3-5 Denver Broncos, the most difficult place for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to find success has been in Denver.
If the Broncos are going to pull off the upset on Sunday Night Football, these five numbers will be key in knocking off Denver’s most rivaled team outside of the AFC West.
The Patriots offense, led by No. 12, can move the ball with the best of them. But only to a point.
In New Englands six wins, they’ve held opponents under 429 yards of offense. In their two losses, however, their opponents have moved the ball with ease, racking up 444 and 537 yards of offense.
Even with Brady across the way, if the Broncos can eclipse 430 yards of offense—which they have yet to do—recent history would say the Pats won’t be able to keep up, especially going against Denver’s defense.
New England’s defense certainly hasn’t been a juggernaut this year like it was last year—they finished as the No. 1 scoring defense in 2016, only giving up 15.6 points per game. However, their run defense has been hit or miss.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s squad has held opposing teams to 125 yards on the ground and under five times. In all of those contests, the Pats have come away with the victory. New England’s defense has allowed more than 125 yards on the ground three times—including 185 to the Kansas City Chiefs on opening night—in which the team has gone 1-2.
The encouraging news for the Broncos is they have hit 126 yards or more in four of their eight games thus far. To beat the Pats, they’ll likely need to make it a fifth.
The most important number of all, of course, is the one on the scoreboard. To beat the Patriots, the formula is straightforward: score at least 21 points.
In the Patriots eight games, they’ve given up 21 points or more in three contests, in which they’ve gone 1-2. In their five other games, they’ve held opponents to under 20 points, winning every single one.
In the Pats one victory where they allowed more than 20 points, they beat the Houston Texans 36-33, so it’s not to say that the New England can’t win a shootout.
The Broncos have eclipsed 20 points in only three of their eight games, going 2-1 in those contests.
As the seventh-best scoring offense—averaging 27 points per game—the Patriots are going to put points on the board. It’s a matter of how they score that has determined their success thus far.
In the Patriots five wins, Brady averages 2.3 touchdown passes. In their two losses, he only averages one.
On the other hand, in the Pats two losses, New England’s rushing attack averages 2.5 touchdowns per game, while in the five wins they only have a total of one.
The key for the Broncos will be to limit Brady through the air, even if it means a big day for New England on the ground.
Much like it’s important to limit Brady, it’s just as important to limit his favorite weapon through the air: Rob Gronkowski.
In five of New Englands six wins, Gronk has had at least one touchdown reception. In their two losses, however, he’s had a total of zero.
Limiting, and covering, Gronk is far easier said than done, but for the Broncos to have success, they’ll need to do everything in their power to contain the 6-foot-6, 265-pound receiving threat.