What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Broncos game

Cam Newton returns for the Patriots against the Broncos on Sunday.

So, Le’Veon Bell won’t be suiting up for the New England Patriots in time for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos. That could be because he’s chosen to join Kansas City, as reported on Thursday. Or it could be because the Patriots and Broncos have had their showdown postponed. Again.

Barring another rash of COVID positives though, the Patriots will get their first game action in since losing to the Chiefs almost two weeks ago. This was, of course, slated to be their bye week, a break in the schedule that allowed for a bit of wiggle room from the NFL. But if any more tests come back positive, such scheduling luxuries won’t exist any longer.

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But back to Bell, the former Jets and Steelers running back whom the disastrous New York football team released earlier in the week. It would have been the perfect fit for both parties; Bell heading to a team with Super Bowl aspirations while Bill Belichick would get to laugh at the Jets for paying a member of his competitive team while they tread water in the depths of the AFC East.

Then again, he’s 28 years old, which is on the doorstep to the downside of a running back’s career, and with Rex Burkhead, James White, and Damien Harris already carrying much of the load, Bell might be a luxury the team doesn’t need.

Frankly, it might behoove the Patriots to look at improving elsewhere on the field, namely at the wide receiver, tight end, and inside linebacker positions. So, let’s have fun with names like Michael Thomas (suspended by the Saints last week for fighting with a teammate at practice last week), Julio Jones (Atlanta desperately needs to sell off pieces in order to rebuild), and Zach Ertz.

With the NFL trading deadline a little more than two weeks away, it’s still somewhat difficult to get a handle on this Patriots team and what its ultimate prospects can become. We haven’t seen quarterback Cam Newton since beating up on the Raiders (who, in turn, beat up on the Chiefs team that ably embarrassed Brian Hoyer nearly two weeks ago). The Patriots are 2-2 and it seems as if the rest of the NFL is sorting to define itself a little bit while New England sits in limbo.

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Sunday should help in that regard. Maybe it will start to point Belichick in the directions he needs in order to improve his team by Nov. 3.

At that point, the Thomas and Jones pursuits might really heat up. Which probably means Belichick will find a way to deal off another second-round pick for a Mohammed Sanu redux.

This week’s predictions:

Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 24, Broncos 16. “Both teams expect their QBs back, with Drew Lock returning after two games out and Cam Newton activated off the COVID list. Pats’ pass D handling Lock should be the key. (Get it!?) NE has won five in a row in series, and Broncos have been a bad road team for a good while. That betting line (New England, -10), though.”

Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Broncos (+9.5). “With Drew Lock having a chance to return, this (very) delayed game has a chance to be more competitive than many think.”

MMQB staff: Everybody likes the Patriots.

ESPN staff: All Pats

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 31, Broncos 17. “This game was postponed because of Covid, which can help the Patriots because they could have Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore back. The Broncos didn’t look great in beating the Jets a few weeks ago, so look for them to struggle here. New England wins, no matter who plays quarterback. If it’s Newton, they win big.”

CBS Sports staff: Seven out of eight pick New England (-9). Everyone picks the Pats straight-up.

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (-10). “I picked the Broncos +8 in this matchup last week before it was postponed, but that was when I thought Cam Newton would still be out. Even with Newton back, 10 points remains a really tempting number. I mean, are we pretending that this Patri*ts team is still elite? I’ll take the cheaters to win, but 10 points is too hard to pass up.”

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Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Broncos 14. “This game will finally be played in Week 6 and still doesn’t sound all that interesting. Denver’s defense is depleted, and its offense, even if Drew Lock can return, doesn’t have much with Noah Fant and K.J. Hamler likely joining Courtland Sutton on the shelf. The Patriots will focus on taking away Melvin Gordon and the running game first, and put the Broncos’ young QB of choice in bad situations. Whether or not Cam Newton can play for New England, look for Bill Belichick’s team to go run-heavy to slam the door on Denver.”

Bill Bender, Sporting News: Patriots 28, Broncos 19. “The Patriots are another team whose schedule continues to change by the day because of COVID-19, and we have no idea who will be their starting quarterback at this point. We’re sticking to the same prediction as last week.”

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 31, Broncos 17. “The extra week allowed both teams to get their starting quarterbacks back. Advantage, team with the former MVP at quarterback.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 28, Broncos 17. “The Patriots have been hit hard by COVID-19, but the Broncos have been hit even harder by injuries.”

FiveThirtyEight: Sixty-one percent Patriots (-3).

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 27, Broncos 23. “If this game went off as scheduled last week, the quarterback matchup would have likely been Brett Rypien vs. Jarrett Stidham. Now it is expected to be Drew Lock vs. Cam Newton. Everyone wins! The Broncos will also get Phillip Lindsay and possibly Noah Fant back to an offense ready to be frisky again, Melvin Gordon’s status is up in the air following a DUI arrest. While Newton’s return will boost the Patriots’ diverse running game, Bill Belichick’s respect for Vic Fangio’s defense wasn’t lip service. The Broncos are a dangerous, well-coached opponent for any team, especially one that has barely practiced in two weeks.”

NFL Pickwatch: Ninety-eight percent going with the Patriots.

It says here: Patriots 24, Broncos 13. The game will be on Sunday. Or Monday. Maybe Tuesday…

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