As in 2001-06 when the Broncos were 5-1 against the Patriots, including a playoff win in the divisional round following the 2005 season. But times change, and between 2008 and last season the Broncos are 2-6 against New England.
And with the Patriots 10-0 as they arrive in Denver for this Sunday night’s game and the Broncos sitting at 8-2, what happens in Sports Authority Field at Mile High will have a lot to say about what this year’s AFC playoff bracket will look like.
Here are five reasons the Broncos can win Sunday against the Patriots:
Not target rich: The Patriots had five wide receivers listed on the team’s injury report this week. And while Brady completed passes to seven different receivers in the Patriots’ win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, the Broncos have far more ability to match up in the secondary than the Bills do. If the Broncos can limit Brady’s ability to get the ball to tight end Rob Gronkowski and hold up in man coverage in the rest of the formation, the Broncos have the kind of pass rush that could limit Brady’s ability to get the ball where he wants to.
History: When the Broncos have fared better against the Patriots, it had been with the offense they play with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, out of a two-tight end set. Mike Shanahan, when Gary Kubiak was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, routinely believed the best way to attack Belichick’s defense was out of the balanced formation, which included two tight ends. It could also help protect Osweiler a little better against a Patriots defense that figures to be aggressive in its pass-rush approach and has almost sacked quarterbacks as much as the Broncos have.
Run the ball: It’s easy to forget now that the Patriots have rampaged out to a 10-0 start, but early in the season opposing offenses were able to carve out some running room. Four of New England’s first five opponents rushed for at least 102 yards, with the Bills gaining 160 yards in Week 2. The Patriots have adjusted on defense as only one team has topped 90 yards rushing in their past five games -- the Bills this past Monday night. The Broncos' rushing totals will likely reflect how things went on offense since it would be a lot to ask for Osweiler to carve up a Belichick defense in the quarterback's second career start.
Von Miller: Miller’s six sacks don’t reflect the kind of impact Miller has had on games this season, and personnel executives around the league have said Miller may lead the league in "almost sacks" as well as uncalled holding penalties on opposing offensive linemen. Miller could certainly tip the scales in this one. If the Broncos cover as they did against the Green Bay Packers, they could force the usually work-fast Brady to reset in the pocket at times, giving Miller time to create problems.
Turnovers: In 13 previous games against Brady, the Broncos have not had an interception in eight of those games and they have not sacked Brady in five games. The Patriots play mistake-free in big moments, so if the Broncos are going to reset the AFC’s playoff picture a bit, they have to find a way to be the team that creates turnovers and plays with poise. So often in the recent matchups, the Broncos have not done either.