The 3-11 Patriots travel to Denver on Sunday Night to take on a 7-7 Broncos squad whose playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. Quarterback Bailey Zappe and company will hope to play spoiler to Russell Wilson and the Broncos, attempting to pull off New England's first win in Denver since the 2017 regular season. Most recently the Broncos knocked off the Pats in 2020 in an 18-12 field-goal-laden victory, as Denver has won four of the last seven meetings between the two teams, including two AFC Championship wins.
Here's how the crew from Patriots Unfiltered sees it going down, while weighing in on the players they're most interested to see.
Two starts, two solid first halves, two lackluster second halves. Simple question, can Bailey Zappe and the Patriots offense put together a full 60 minutes in Denver?
Denver is playing for their playoff lives. The Patriots might be without their top tight end, a beat-up offensive line and the bones of a receiving corps. On top of all that, it was tough winning in Denver even when 12 was the quarterback. What do you think? -Fred Kirsch
Unfortunately at this stage of the season the offense hasn't shown the ability to consistently move the ball and score points. So expecting a 60-minute effort in a Denver is probably asking for too much. -Paul Perillo
With all due respect to the Fever, I'm going to say no. Zappe has shown the ability to execute the game-planned script at a high level. But once defenses figure out what the Patriots are doing, they adjust, and Zappe doesn't have a counter punch. I think that's largely indicative of his overall talent level as a backup quarterback. We'll see. I hope I'm wrong. -Evan Lazar
It will be a tall task to win with how much Denver has to play for, but I think they can at least put up two decent halves on offense if they go run-heavy and try to limit turnovers – which the Broncos have not only been capitalizing on of late, but forcing.-Alex Francisco
Bailey Zappe and the Patriots offense can put together a full 60 minutes in Denver by ditching the conservative second half approach. The Patriots have come out the last two first halves throwing the ball aggressively and then falling by the wayside the second half. Even if Bailey Zappe does throw an interception in the second half, the Patriots have to remain aggressive because leaning on just Ezekiel Elliott in the running game isn't going to be enough to win. New England has to keep the foot on the gas pedal offensively and not play it too safe in order to come home with a victory. -Tamara Brown
It's asking a lot this week if they're without Hunter Henry and Cole Strange, and who knows which receivers will be ready to go. In theory it seems easy, just do what you did in the first half but I think it's a bigger problem overall where an early gameplan helps grease the skids but once the opposition catches on it's tough sledding. I expect more of that, unless… the simply run all over the Broncos, and I'm not counting on that. -Mike Dussault
Of this trio, which young player would you most like to see get extensive action against the Broncos and why?
- Kevin Harris
- Marte Mapu
- Alex Austin
I'd love to see more Marte Mapu and at linebacker at times. Still uncertain about what we have with him.-FK
I'd like to see more of Mapu as a linebacker to see if he can operate closer to the line of scrimmage and play in both the running and passing games. -PP
Mapu, baby! Linebacker. Marte. Mapu. It's amazing what happens when you use a player correctly. The Patriots drafted a new-age linebacker, not a Kyle Dugger replacement. We can agree there are some similarities between those two roles, but Mapu needs to be playing linebacker assignments for the rest of his career. -EL
Based on last game against the Chiefs, as well as J.C. Jackson's recent designation to the non-football illness list, I expect to see Alex Austin getting a lot more experience against Jeudy and Sutton. I think Kevin Harris certainly deserves some more play after last week as well, but feel like Zeke deserves to rack up his stats in a contract year after everything this season. -AF
Alex Austin will likely get extensive action in this game with J.C. Jackson going on the NFI list after the Chiefs game. Austin found out he was starting over Jackson in that game when the game begun and this week after having a full week to prepare as a start, I believe his minutes will increase. -TB
Gonna balance it out here and say Harris, who is a big powerful back and one who showed last week he has something to offer. With just Rhamondre under contract at running back it could be nice to end this season feeling like Harris might be able to contribute something in 2024. Feels like a long shot unless he really does damage over the last three games. -MD
Given Russell Wilson's skillset, how do you see the Broncos attacking the Patriots defense and what is the key to stopping them?
Wilson isn't quite the scrambling playmaker he once was. If they can replicate with him what they were moderately successful doing last week with Mahomes, the defense will once again keep the game within reach. -FK
I expect to see Wilson using his legs to move the chains and taking some shots downfield to Courtland Sutton. I think the key for the patriots will be attacking Wilson with pressure and forcing the ball out quickly. -PP
My biggest concern with this Broncos offense is Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy against a banged up Pats cornerback room. Those two receivers can win consistently against man coverage, and one of them is getting Jon Jones nursing a knee injury, while the other will have Alex Austin or Shaun Wade lining up across from him. The Austin/Wade matchup is a huge mismatch likely in Sutton's favor. The Patriots might need to play a lot more zone than usual. -EL
Wilson may not be the same player we saw in the Super Bowl all those years ago, but he can still scramble to pull off plays. The Patriots secondary can't give up on plays when they do have him under pressure, because we've seen the give up explosive plays when that happens all year. -AF
Given Russell Wilson's skillset, I envision the Broncos attempting to make the Patriots pay with his athleticism. New England's defense has historically been unable to stop the dual threat quarterbacks and I could see them deploying a lot more designed runs in the mix along with testing the corners with deep balls to Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. -TB
It's the deep passing game that worries me with Wilson throwing downfield to Sutton. The secondary is banged up and the Broncos have enough threats that they'll be a big challenge. No Jabrill Peppers would hurt too, especially with communication. Blown coverages could equal a quick six points. -MD
Name one Patriots player with the most to prove over these final three games.
The obvious answer is Zappe. Can he show that despite not having the weapons and perhaps protection, he can at least do his job mistake-free and to the point where it's evident he belongs in the NFL. -FK
I'd say Tyquan Thornton. He hasn't done much in his two seasons and at some point he's going to need to show some of the ability that allowed him to become a second-round pick. We need to see some of that soon. -PP
Kyle Dugger. I thought he had his worst game of his Patriots career against the Chiefs: lost on the 48-yard screen and lost in space in zone. Not good. If he wants to get paid this offseason, Dugger needs to be way better than that down the stretch. -EL
Bailey Zappe. He can create a nice little career for himself, even not if as a starter, with solid play through the end of the season. -AF
JuJu Smith-Schuster has a lot to prove over the final three games. He has had a lackluster season outside of the game against the Steelers and has not been the receiver with impressive yards after catch that he was projected to be for the Patriots. Between his health, dropped passes and miss communication, Smith-Schuster hasn't lived up to the hype. -TB
Thornton. As of last week it seemed like Jalen Reagor had surpassed him on the depth chart, and I'm really wondering if he can salvage anything from the 2023 season. Could we see that speed on display? It's been a second forgettable season so far for him. -MD
What are your best and worst memories from all the great Pats-Broncos matchups over the years?
So many on both sides of the question! In Week 1 of 1998 we became the first team to produce a live, streaming video post-game show under the stands in the old Mike High Stadium. The Week 9 game in 2003 when the Patriots took an intentional safety and Lonie Paxton became a New England household name. Those were two of the best memories.
On the sad side, 2015 was a particularly tough season in the Rockies. The Patriots went into Denver at 10-0 but ended up losing in overtime 30-24 due in large part to "Harper's Muff." Chris Harper muffed a punt in the fourth quarter. Denver recovered and came back from a 21-7 deficit to win. That was also the game we thought Rob Gronkowski might be lost for eternity (his knee injury wasn't as bad as the on-field drama looked). Then, the Patriots went to Denver for the AFC Championship where Brady got pummeled. Despite a Gronk herculean effort on the final drive where the Patriots came within 2, Brady looked to Edelman for the 2-point conversion instead of an open Gronk. New England lost, 20-18. -FK
The worst memories were the two AFC title games in 2013 and 2015. The 2015 one was worse because Peyton Manning's injuries prevented him from having the ability to throw and the broncos still dominated with their defense. Two tough losses. -PP
The worst memory is an easy one: the 2005 divisional round loss in Denver. Brady's first playoff loss, and my first memory of Patriots heartbreak. It was a touchback!!!! There aren't a lot of good memories honestly. I'd say the 2013 regular season comeback versus Peyton where Belichick took the wind. The Tebow playoff game was fun, too. -EL
UGH. That AFC Championship game against Peyton Manning that sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl was so annoying. Best memory? Probably smoking the Tim Tebow-led Broncos. -AF
The 2005 loss was a catalyst for me to get into really getting into Patriots analysis in 2006, it's when I went full crazy Pats blogger, mostly because I knew the clock was ticking on Brady/Belichick and wondered how many Super Bowls they could get. I know that could sound weird since they lost two AFC Championships last decade to Denver, plus Harper's Muff in 2015 that totally changed the dynamic of the season. Best memory has to be the 2013 comeback at Gillette Stadium. That was the original 28-3 game! -MD
Bonus Question – Best holiday gift you ever got?
Two were tops: A Red Ryder BB gun (no, I didn't shoot my eye out) and a harmonica. -FK
When I was a kid my godfather bought my brother and I one of those NHL table hockey games. It was Bruins against Rangers and had a great fiberglass ice surface. We used to use pledge on it and the puck would fly. Lots of broken stuff in the Perillo house. Good times. -PP
Tickets to the 2005 Red Sox season opener when they hunt the World Series banner for 2004. I've never enjoyed cheering for Mariano Rivera more in my life. -EL
My mom got me an iPod Classic when they first came out. I didn't even really know what an iPod was at that point but after that Christmas it basically became attached to my hand. Still have it somewhere, filled with like 10,000 amazing songs from my youth lol. -AF
Best holiday gift I've ever received – a car for my 21st birthday. -TB
A Millenium Falcon Star Wars toy. I think I'd still be excited to get one. -MD
DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer