Let's knock our admittedly sizeable Patriots-fan egos down what many would say is a much-needed notch, shall we? Here's a nice homemade slice of humble pie:
The last time the Patriots faced the Broncos in the AFC Divisional game, it was 1986, and the Broncos won 22-17.
Bill Belichick is 2-7 vs. the Broncos lifetime.
The Patriots have never won a Division playoff game on the road. They've also never had to win two road games in any of their Super Bowl seasons, as a matter of fact--a prospect they most likely would face this year even if they beat Denver. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
The Pats are ranked 8th in the league vs. the run, compared to the Broncos 2nd. And what happens to that ranking if Bruschi doesn't play? After all, the fact that he's not listed on the Patriots' injury report doesn't mean he'll actually play...or play the whole game.
Then there are the X-Factors. Like the fact that for the first time in the "dynasty" era, the Patriots have not gotten a bye week while the Broncos have been enjoying an extra week of rest.
There's also no denying that the Broncos are notoriously difficult to beat at home. There's the thin air and the rabid fans...whatever the reason, they went 8-0 at home this year.
Worse, as the Herald reports, Brady struggled this year on the road. His touchdown-to-interception ration was 12-to-12 away. As a team, the Pats allowed 11 of their longest 15 pass plays on the road, as well as nine of their top 15 rushing plays. They also trailed at the half in five of their eight road games.
The Herald and numerous other sources have quoted Tom Brady as talking about how the Patriots can't "lose 30 minutes of football" in the first half the way they did against the Jags. There's a good reason for this: though Reiss' Pieces reported the Pats' good first-quarter numbers that I referenced in yesterday's post, it was only to compare it to Denver's 81-44 in the first quarter and 143-61 in the second. Yikes.
Granted, it's not an unbiased source, but this is TheDenverChannel's vision of the game:
If the Patriots take away the Broncos running game (a tall order, indeed), you can expect Plummer and his receivers to connect for some big plays downfield against the still-thin New England secondary. On the other side of the ball, Brady will make some plays of his own, but the Patriots will struggle to run the football, and their one-dimensional style will ultimately be their downfall as the Broncos record a historic victory.
The bottom line is, the Pats have not been the dominant team this year as in years past, and even in those years they never faced the challenges they do going into Denver this weekend. They are three point underdogs, we must admit, for a reason.
Before you despair. Tomorrow, Part III: My Humble Opinion.