Denver Broncos (1-4) at New England Patriots (2-2)
This game looks like it is finally going to be played. It was originally scheduled to be played last week, but due to the Patriots’ COVID outbreak, the game was moved to week 6 and week 5 was made a bye week for these two teams. The Patriots had an additional COVID positive on Friday, but it appears to be an isolated case and, without a good re-scheduling option, the NFL will play this game this week, barring any further positives.
The Broncos get starting quarterback Drew Lock back for the first time since he injured his throwing shoulder in week 2, but the Patriots definitely benefit the most from the additional time off, as it allowed them to get starting quarterback Cam Newton and top cornerback Stephon Gilmore back from the COVID list and those are probably the Patriots’ most important players on either side of the ball. The additional positive test also doesn’t hurt the Patriots in this game because it was a reserve offensive lineman who was unlikely to see the field on offense.
The Patriots are just 2-2, but, now with their key players back, they’re much better than their record suggests. Their two losses both came on the road against two of the better teams in the league in Seattle and Kansas City. The Seattle game came down to a goal line stop and the Patriots arguably would have won in Kansas City if they had Cam Newton starting that game rather than Brian Hoyer, as their defense managed to hold the Chiefs’ offense to just two offensive touchdowns all game. Their two wins, meanwhile, were both convincing victories by double digits over the Dolphins and Raiders.
The Broncos are much more in line with the Dolphins and Raiders than the Seahawks and Chiefs, but they’re better than their 1-4 record would suggest, so we’re not really getting line value with the Patriots as 9-point home favorites, especially with the Patriots being one of the few teams in the league to still not have any fans in their stadium. The Broncos have been ravaged by injury this season, even beyond the injury to their starting quarterback, as Lock will be missing his #1 receiver Courtland Sutton and their defense is without stud edge defender Von Miller, talented defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and expected top cornerback AJ Bouye, but their defense is still very well coached by Vic Fangio and ranks 2nd in the league with a 31.67% first down rate allowed.
Given those absences, it’s unlikely the Broncos’ defense will be able to keep that rate up all season, but any decline on defense could be offset by improvement on offense if Lock can return healthy and progress going forward after 7 career starts. My calculated line is actually only New England -7, giving the Patriots a 6-point advantage over the Broncos and a point for their nominal homefield advantage.
Unfortunately, this is a bad spot for the Broncos, as they have another tough game on deck against the Chiefs, a game in which they are currently 9-point home underdogs on the early line. Teams are 44-106 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, including 17-44 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown or more before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, like the Broncos are this week. It’s very tough for an inferior team to keep a game close against a much better opponent when they have another tough game on deck. For that reason, I’m taking the Patriots, but you could make arguments for both sides in this game, as the Broncos’ well coached defense could easily be able to keep this game close.
New England Patriots 24 Denver Broncos 13
Pick against the spread: New England -9