Week 5 will be the most pivotal week of the Broncos’ season so far. If they beat the Patriots on the road, a realistic path to the playoffs becomes visible. However, lose and the season will be all but over.
Here’s what the Broncos have to do in order to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least one more week.
Win the turnover battle
If this game becomes a matchup of Brett Rypien and Jarrett Stidham, which seems like the most likely outcome of all the different potential quarterback combinations, it will be a low-scoring game where the defenses lead the way.
That means every possession will be incredibly valuable, especially those that get within scoring range, which means turnovers must be avoided at all costs. The Patriots have one of the best defenses in the entire league. They rank in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric and they managed to keep Brian Hoyer in a road game against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
If Rypien throws an interception that leads to points, let alone three like he did last week against a much worse Jets defense and secondary, it could put the Broncos in too deep of a hole to dig out of. On the other hand, if Justin Simmons, or some other member of the Denver defense, are able to come up with an interception, it could provide enough of a spark to pull off the upset and revive the team’s playoff hopes.
Lean on the run game
The Patriots’ defense has played extremely well this season considering their opt-outs and the players they lost to free agency. It’s played that well, because it’s a defense built for the modern, spread-out, pass-happy NFL.
They run their defense out of a dime package, meaning they have six defensive backs on the field, more than almost any other team in the league. That makes it incredibly hard to attack them through the air, or with speed, but it does leave them vulnerable to tough, gritty play. That’s why, if the Broncos want to win on Sunday, they’ll have to rely on their run game.
That will be easier said than done though, as Melvin Gordon has managed to average more than four yards a carry against the Jets and Titans, and he was under four yards per carry in that Jets game until that late touchdown scramble.
Can’t afford mistakes on special teams
The special teams unit may seem trivial to most, but don’t forget how big of a factor special teams has been through the first quarter of the Broncos’ season.
In Week 1, they played so well that Denver nearly won the game, and they played a large part in the team’s Week 2 and Week 3 losses. In Week 4, the Broncos special teams in played well again, so well in fact, that Brandon McManus was named the AFC’s special teams player of the week.
It goes without saying that a Bill Belichick-led team is going to be well-coached, so if the Broncos make bake-breaking mistakes on special teams, the Patriots will be there to take advantage of them to help secure the victory.