Does weather play a factor? We know how Bill Belichick feels about weather forecasts a few days leading into the game. But Belichick said he does take stock in those forecasts about an hour before the game, and the main thing to watch for Sunday is wind. Tom Brady's large hands help him throw one of the tighter spirals in the game, which can help the football cut through the wind. We wouldn't put Peyton Manning in that category. This could be an edge for the Patriots. :
Stork orders up Pot Roast: The last time we saw these two teams square off, in last season's AFC Championship game, Broncos defensive tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton dominated. He controlled the middle of the line of scrimmage, beating then-center Ryan Wendell multiple times, as well as then-left guard Logan Mankins. The player who figures to see the most of Knighton this year is center Bryan Stork, the fourth-round draft choice out of Florida State. Can Stork do better?
Broncos matching up with Gronk: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off a three-touchdown performance in which the Bears tried a little bit of everything when it came to matchups -- from safeties to linebackers. Nothing worked, and with Gronkowski playing at such a high level, the Patriots' offense is obviously elevated to a higher level. One figures the Broncos will devote significant resources to Gronkowski, but they don't have one player who looks like the sure-fire answer. If it's safety T.J. Ward, who delivered the hit to Gronkowski's right knee that tore his ACL last December, that's a compelling storyline within the game.
Picking out DB vs. WR matchups vs. Broncos: Denver's lethal passing offense should have the Patriots in subpackages for most of the game, meaning New England's perceived quality depth in the secondary will be tested. If the Patriots ultimately play man coverage, we'd project Darrelle Revis onDemaryius Thomas; Brandon Browner on Julius Thomas; Kyle Arrington on Wes Welker; and Alfonzo Dennard/Logan Ryan onEmmanuel Sanders. As linebacker Dont'a Hightower said, the Patriots want to make this a physical game, which includes powerful jams at the line of scrimmage and coming down hard on their crossing routes. Almost reminds me of the Patriots-Colts plan, circa 2001. Will it be Hightower who delivers the Bryan Cox-like hit?
Taking care of the ball: Turnovers could be included on this list every week, as the Patriots are 6-0 when they don't have a turnover. Their five giveaways are the second-lowest total in the NFL. The team with the fewest giveaways? Denver, of course (4).
Walt Anderson's officiating crew: If the first eight weeks of the season are any indication, expect a lot of penalty flags. Walt Anderson's crew, which is assigned the game, averages the third-highest total of penalty flags per game this season. Specifically, roughing-the-passer and hands-to-the-face penalties have been plentiful from this crew.