Denver Broncos (9-1) at New England Patriots (7-3)
Brady/Manning 14. That has to be some kind of record for non-divisional quarterbacks (I actually don’t know this. If someone does, let me know). This is the greatest quarterback battle in NFL history. What guys like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck etc. have done in recent years is cute, but Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been that good consistently for over a decade despite everything changing around them. We have two elite, elite quarterbacks who face each other every year despite the fact that they are not divisional opponents, because they are able to stay in 1st place so long. On top of that, almost every game has had a memorable ending. Purely as a football fan, I can’t wait for this game.
Now onto the actual pick. The Patriots lost last week in Carolina, but result aside, they’ve played very well offensively over the past 2 weeks, with 61 first downs to 3 punts. Their offense really seems to have woken up with Tom Brady playing better, Aaron Dobson breaking out, and Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola finally healthy. They could have easily beaten Carolina if it wasn’t for a -2 turnover margin, which isn’t the norm for this team, and we can assume an explosive offense once again going forward for them.
In spite of that, the public seems to be down on the Patriots after last week’s loss, as the majority of the action is on Denver. In addition to the fact that I love fading the public whenever it makes sense, I also think this is incorrect. Carolina is a top-5 team. There’s no shame in a close loss in there on the road. In fact, result aside, I’m more impressed with the Patriots after the game than I was before.
The Panthers are moving the chains at an 80% rate, as opposed to 71% for their opponents and the Broncos have a very similar differential, moving the chains at an 82% rate, as opposed to 73% for their opponents. If New England can almost win in Carolina, why are we getting a whole field goal with them at home? The Patriots are now moving the chains at a 76% rate, as opposed to 72% for their opponents, which suggests this line should be around a point, before you even get into the fact that the Patriots are playing better football now than the start of the season.
That’s also before you get into the fact that the Patriots are in a great spot as home underdogs before being road favorites. Teams are 64-39 ATS in that spot since 2002. The Patriots have absolutely no distractions with a trip to Houston on deck, while the Broncos are in between two games against the Chiefs, which are much more important to the Broncos’ seeding than this one. Because the Patriots lost last week, the Broncos will still control their destiny to the #1 seed if they lose this game, but they won’t if they win this game and lose next week. The Broncos won’t sleepwalk through this game or anything. After all, it’s Brady/Manning. However, the Patriots will be less distracted.
The Patriots are also in a spot where they traditionally cover. Simply put, Tom Brady dominates in this specific situation. The fact that they lost last week actually bodes well for their chances of covering this week. Tom Brady is 28-15 ATS off of a loss in his career. He’s also fantastic as an underdog or a small favorite. In his career, Brady is 29-14 ATS as an underdog and 40-16 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of 2.5 or fewer. At home, he’s 7-2 ATS as an underdog in his career and he’s 12-2 ATS as a home underdog or home favorite of 2.5 or fewer. In fact, he hasn’t been an underdog at home since 2005. As an underdog off of a loss, he’s 12-2 ATS, including 5-0 ATS as an underdog off of a loss as an underdog. He dominates when doubted and off of a loss and that’s the exact situation he’s in this week.
And if the opponent is a high level opponent, even better. In his career, Tom Brady is 27-11 straight up against opponents with a better record than his. Just think about that. Teams usually win 38.4% against teams with a better record than the other one. Tom Brady has won 71.1% of such games. Against the spread, he’s even better, going 28-9-1 ATS, including 17-5 ATS as underdogs. Tom Brady always brings his best for the best opponents and he’ll do the same this week.
The Broncos also might be a little overrated here. We know they’re a dominant team at home, but on the road, they’ve won by 3 in Dallas, lost in Indianapolis, and won by just 8 in San Diego, with the Chargers scoring 4 times (2 touchdowns, 2 field goals) to Denver’s 4 scores (4 touchdowns), even though Denver was coming off of a bye. Their only impressive road win came in New York against the Giants and they were playing awful football at the time. I’m not saying the Broncos are a bad road team, but it’s very, very tough for any team to be dominant on the road and it’s very, very tough for any team to win on the road against a top level opponent (just ask the Patriots last week).
They’ve also shown cracks since that amazing start they got off to. In his first 5 games, Peyton Manning completed 150 of 196 (76.5%) for 1884 yards (9.61 YPA), 20 touchdowns, and 1 interception. However, in his past 5 games, Peyton Manning has completed 136 of 217 (62.7%) for 1688 yards (7.79 YPA), 14 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. His numbers from his past 5 games aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s not otherworldly like he was to start the season. This line is still treating him like he is. He’s a 37-year-old quarterback who isn’t 100% with two bad ankles and now he has to go on the road to the cold in New England.
He could also be without two of his weapons as Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are both dealing with injuries. Wes Welker will need to get cleared by doctors because he suffered a concussion last week, while Julius Thomas injured his knee and has yet to practice. I’m not saying they’re definitely going to be out, but it’s worth noting. Peyton Manning won’t suddenly struggle without them and he still has plenty of weapons, but Peyton Manning is having probably the best season of his career this year because of the addition of Welker and the emergence of Thomas. Take them out of the mix and he could struggle a little bit more than usual by this season’s standards. Add everything together and I love the Patriots’ chances of winning a shootout at home and, as long as I’m getting a field goal, this is my Pick of the Week.
New England Patriots 34 Denver Broncos 27 Upset Pick +120
Pick against spread: New England +3
Confidence: Pick of the Week