Publisher Nick St. Denis, associate editor Dan Begnoche and senior contributor Sean Donovan pick the primetime matchup between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
Dan's take: Tom Brady is 5-3 in his last eight games
against Peyton Manning and hasn't lost the head-to-head matchup since 2009, though Denver's offense has
been downright unstoppable of late. The biggest difference-maker here
will be the status of New England's ailing secondary, which was largely
limited in practice this week, and its effectiveness in the red zone. If
Manning is able build a solid lead early despite his banged up
receivers, Brady will be hard pressed to formulate a comeback against a
defense that's proven it can hold a lead. Running back Shane Vereen's
presence will prove be a continual improvement for New England's
offense, but it won't be enough if mate Stevan Ridley can't show some
reliability in the backfield.
Prediction: Broncos 32, Patriots 20
This quarterback matchup is as entrenched in recent NFL history as any rivalry and with both teams again residing atop the conference standings, this installment will not lack any of the importance of the other legendary games. This time, Manning has behind him perhaps the most talented offensive unit assembled in the past few years, one that can overrun even the best gameplan that Bill Belichick & Co. can devise. A strong showing by Brady and the New England offense packs this game with drama, but the Broncos prove to be too much and cement their future No. 1 seed status.
Prediction: Broncos 41, Patriots 31
A Manning-Brady showdown on primetime? Count me in. Brady has had plenty of moving parts around him this year, but now he has both Vereen and Rob Gronkowski on the field at the same time. The tailback-tight end tandem will lead the Patriots' offense in this one, though it will be hard-pressed to maintain pace with the well-oiled machine that is the Denver offense. New England needs a big game from Aqib Talib and the secondary, as Manning has been a tough guy to reach in the pass rush as of late.
Prediction: Broncos 34, Patriots 27