What NFL experts are saying about Sunday’s Patriots-Broncos game

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 18:  Defensive tackle Alan Branch #97 of the New England Patriots stands up after tackling running back Justin Forsett #20 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 18, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Alan Branch stands up after tackling running back Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos. –Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Following their annual, nightmarish sojourn to the Mile High playground of something called Brock Osweiler this weekend, the New England Patriots are still yet to play the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills both home and away, against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and the New York Jets at an Auld Lang Syne-fueled Gillette Stadium.

All but the Steelers could have made their own claim on tight end Martellus Bennett. Instead, they all helped the Patriots aid a burgeoning flaw.

In claiming Bennett, the former New England tight end who was released by the Green Bay Packers earlier this week, the Patriots have potentially helped their offense in the red zone, which currently ranks 20th in the NFL at a 50 percent success rate. Over their last three games, before last week’s bye, that percentage dipped to 41.67, and was a dismal 25 percent against the San Diego (I don’t care) Chargers a fortnight ago.

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Last season, the Patriots were 10th in the league at 64 percent in the red zone. Bennett caught eight of 10 targets in the red zone with the Patriots last season, the best percentage among tight ends in the NFL.

Of course, the fact that Bennett reportedly has a torn rotator cuff that he’s going to attempt to play through may make all this potential a moot point.

But he still could have been the Jets’ tight end. Or a Bill. Or a Raider. Or a Bronco.

Nope.

This week’s picks

Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 27, Broncos 21. “What once seemed a prime-time-worthy Sunday night matchup has withered with four straight Broncos losses and bad quarterbacking. Pats are coming off a bye and have won 11 straight on road. Still, I see Broncs’ D keeping it close.”

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: Patriots 38, Broncos 17. “Remember when Brock Osweiler beat the Patriots? That will become a distant memory after this one. The Patriots are coming off a bye, and this one could get ugly.”

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 24, Broncos 20. “This would normally be a big-time game, but the Broncos haven’t held up their end of it. They are struggling in a big way on offense and the defense has even regressed. The Patriots are coming off a bye, so they are rested. Tom Brady has struggled at times in Denver, and he might here. The Pats get the win, but the Broncos manage to keep it close.”

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CBS Sports staff: Split at Denver + 7.5. Seven out of eight pick the Patriots straight-up.

David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 38, Broncos 0. “Again, schedule-flexing cannot come soon enough. The Broncos can’t even play top-notch defense anymore; the only team they’ve stopped in their 1-5 skid was a Raiders team that lost Derek Carr to a broken back. The less said about the Brock Osweiler Experience, the better. The Patriots are rested and prepared. Uh-oh.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 27, Broncos 16. “The Broncos are no longer prime-time players on offense, and the struggles have seeped into the defense. Now both reeling units have to face the unpredictability and might of Bill Belichick’s team after a bye. This isn’t Brock Osweiler playing well enough against the Patriots a few seasons ago. This is Tom Brady having his way with distraught Denver, a team he has faced 16 times in his career.”

Chris Simms, Bleacher Report: Patriots 28, Broncos 17. “Everybody gives the New England Patriots their best shot, there’s no doubt about that. When Tom Brady and Co. come to town, teams try a little more because they know they’re going to be overmatched and outcoached to a degree. It usually takes a perfect game to beat New England. The Denver Broncos are going to be pissed off because they were as physically dominated as a team can be last week. I don’t think, though, Denver is capable of playing a perfect game right now.”

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “It appears that Brock Osweiler will start again for Denver this week, which makes this a pretty easy pick, though it’s not as if Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch would change my mind either.”

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Five Thirty Eight: New England with a 71 percent chance of winning.

ESPN.com staff: Ten out of 11 pick the Pats.

USA Today staff: All Pats.

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Broncos 17. “Yes, the Patriots usually struggle in Denver. But that’s typically because the Broncos are pretty good. While their defense still is (but for the 51 points allowed at Philly), the offense is not.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 28, Broncos 24. “think the Broncos will play a lot better than they did in last week’s loss to the Eagles. Just not well enough to beat the Patriots.”

Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 24, Broncos 16. “Think you’ll see another fine Tom Brady performance this weekend. You’ll also see a rebound from the Broncos’ defense. First Brady, who is enjoying an MVP season once again, even if his success bores fans. Wrote about him in this week’s Power Rankings, because I’m not sure people realize how absurdly effective he has been at age 40. The Broncos defenders have a tall task, but I think they’ll be up to the challenge the Patriots present. Will Brock Osweiler produce points? It’ll help if game situation doesn’t remove the RBs from playing much of a role (like last week).”

It says here: Patriots 26, Broncos 20. I’m sensing this comes down to some sort of “fourth-and-two” situation, where one play — or a coaching boner — is going to decide the game. The Broncos stink, but fighting for their lives against a visiting team that they give fits to in their building? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. But the Broncos stink, so it won’t be.

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