I'll be writing a conventional Patriots column after every game this season. So I figured that to preview the game each week, I'd try something a little less conventional and yet still in the spirit of the serious-but-lighthearted, often-nostalgic prism with which TATB has always viewed sports. So here is the fifth installment of what we're calling the Unconventional Preview. Hope you have as much fun reading it as I have putting it together, and I promise to abandon this silly intro sometime soon.
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I'LL BE WATCHING
1. Patrick Chung: For all of the success the Patriots had against Manning and the Colts through the years, the image of him stepping up and finding Dallas Clark wide-open 18 yards down the field was so common, especially later on, that it's practically on perpetual replay whenever you think of Manning. If the Patriots have one true concern at this point, it is probably the play of their safeties -- Steve Gregory has regressed and lost playing time to Tavon Wilson, and Chung was a step late when he wasn't getting downright torched against the Bills. He must play better Sunday, because he is going to be wearing a bull's-eye.
2. Brandon Lloyd: At first I thought Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was throwing around the hyperbole, being kind to an ex-teammate, or just trying to soften up an opponent when he said this week that Lloyd is the best athlete in the NFL. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the Patriots receiver is at least in the argument. While a player like Rob Gronkowski -- huge, multi-talented and faster than he has any right to be -- probably deserves some consideration, I think the consensus is that the best athletes on the field are probably the receivers and cornerbacks, with safeties and outside linebackers in the argument. While my vote my goes to someone like Patrick Peterson, there isn't a receiver in the league who makes more acrobatic catches than Lloyd, and his footwork along the sideline is as good as it gets. If someone like Bailey, who at his peak might have been the best athlete in the league himself, says Lloyd is, who am I not to nod in agreement?
3. Stevan Ridley and his ball-carrying friends: Against the Bills, the Patriots flashed back to the late '70s Sam Cunningham/Don Calhoun/Horace Ivory/Andy Johnson days, when it seemed like four running backs would pile up about 200 yards running behind John Hannah and Leon Gray. Ridley and rookie Brandon Bolden combined for 243 yards on the ground. While such numbers probably aren't likely againt the Broncos -- Denver's run defense is decent at ninth in the league at 87.5 yards per game -- the Patriots are going to test them, with Ridley and either Bolden or Danny Woodhead (who had 15 carries against Baltimore) depending upon matchups.
PROOF THAT PEYTON MANNING COULD PROBABLY CUT IT AS A 'SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE' CAST MEMBER
You'd think it might bother Eli Manning that his big brother is better at both football and comedy, but then again, whenever he's feeling blue he can just casually mention to Peyton that he has twice as many Super Bowl rings and instantly feel much better about himself. (Sorry I had to bring that up.) Anyway, Peyton was a far better host on SNL than Eli or Tom Brady for that matter -- heck, he could probably do a better President Obama than Fred Armisen ever did. Hulu doesn't let you imbed the clip of Peyton's greatest performance on Saturday Night Live, so here's the link to that. The video above is a collection of Manning's best commercials -- yes, he's a better pitchman than he's brother, too, something of which we'll be reminded of with every single break in the action Sunday.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK:
No grievance this week. I am without grievance, I suppose, unless you want to revisit this, my plea for some among you to actually enjoy that three-hour block on Sunday when you get to watch this team. I do have a question, however, that may cause some disagreement: Is Terrell Davis a Hall of Famer? The former Broncos running back (1995-2001) is on the ballot again this year, and he's a fascinating case. He played just seven seasons -- and was healthy for just four, really -- totally 77 games over the entirety of his career. Yet he was the star, more so than even John Elway, of a pair of Super Bowl champions, and in the span from 1995-97, when Denver was a team you wished the Patriots could somehow become, he ran for 5,246 yards and 49 touchdowns -- in three years! I know he wasn't transcendent like Gale Sayers, another wonderful offensive player whose career was abbreviated to 68 games by injuries, but Davis was more than a flash. He was brilliant. I'd vote for him. You?
PREDICTION, ALSO KNOWN AS "JOSH McDANIELS WILL BE OUT FOR REVENGE ... REVENGE!"
It's barely an exaggeration to say the Patriots offensive coordinator and former Broncos head coach is about as popular in Denver as Eric Mangini is in New England. He got on their bad side by trading Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, deals that in retrospect prove he knew more than they did. Drafting Tim Tebow in the first round in 2010, ahead of the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, probably isn't quite so forgivable, and maybe there was something to the notion that the hubris that came from McDaniels's association with Bill Belichick was off-putting. So it's a bit surprising that in the buildup to this game, there hasn't been much revisiting of the McDaniels era in the Denver media, at least from what I've seen so far. Either way, we know McDaniels, who won his first six games as Broncos coach but was fired before his second season was through in part because of a videotaping scandal, will have revenge as a motive Sunday -- hell, it's human nature. The Patriots' offense will make their coordinator look as smart as the Broncos believed he was when they first hired him. Patriots 45, Broncos 24
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 30, Bills 20. Final score: Patriots 52, Bills 28. Season record: 2-2.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.