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Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots: 3 Stats to Watch

Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots: 3 Stats to Watch

Saturday January 14th, 2012 - New England Patriots Tickets

It's finally over. The Tim Tebow hype. The Tom Brady critiquing. The prediction making. It's finally over.

There's only one thing left to do. It's time to settle things on the field.

In a matter of hours, either Tebow's already Internet-busting celebrity will swell to twice its size, or the Patriots will have remembered how to take care of business in January and stopped their playoff slide.

Either way, one quarterback with immense fanfare is going home, while another is moving on. If you're looking for an antacid, try your local pharmacy or grocery store.

The Patriots should win this game. They're better on paper, on film, on tape, on whichever medium you choose. They handled Denver convincingly in a matchup just weeks ago. They should win this game.

Will they? That depends on how they do on the field. And that will be determined by their performance in the following three categories.

Sacks

If you protect Brady, you win the game. It's that simple.

For all the raving about this versatile attack and for all the weapons at Brady's disposal, the entire offense comes down to one fact. If Brady's rushed and on the ground, the Patriots will lose. If he's given time and allowed to stand in the pocket, the Patriots will win.

This offense will perform if Brady has the seconds necessary to make his reads. He doesn't need too many, but he needs some.

The playoffs have proven it. When Brady is sacked two times or fewer, New England is 12-2. When he's sacked three times or more, the Patriots are 2-3.

The pass rush is Denver's only real shot in this game on defense. The Broncos have Elvis Dumervil (albeit with a banged-up knee) and Von Miller ready to go, and their hopes will rest on those sack aces getting to Brady often. If the Broncos can't muster more than a sack or two on Brady, they will be in big trouble.

The offensive line doesn't have to pitch a shutout, but it's got to do better than the 13 sacks over the previous three playoff games. If it's an easy day for Brady, it'll be an easy day for the Patriots.

Turnovers

The most reliable way to beat the Patriots is the way the Ravens did it in 2009 and the Steelers and Giants did it this year: with plenty of pressure.

The Buffalo Bills also managed a win over New England, however, and did so with a different formula. They forced turnovers, four of them to be exact. All via Brady's arm.

In the Patriots' last two playoff losses, early turnovers have cost them. Turnovers torpedoed them in 2009, as Brady was strip-sacked on the team's first possession of the game and threw three interceptions to boot. The game, as a result, was never close.

The Patriots also got in their own way against the Jets. They were moving the ball as expected out of the gate and got into New York territory on their first drive, but a Brady interception, his first in 335 passes, ended the process and seemed to cripple the Patriots' mojo.

If the Patriots get beaten by more than two in the turnover department, they could be looking at an early exit again. Protecting Brady prevents the recommended way of beating New England, but the Patriots have to cover the freak possibilities, too.

It all starts with winning the turnover battle and taking care of the football. If the Patriots can avoid the costly mistake, they'll be fine.

Time of possession

The Patriots may very well not win this. That wouldn't be a problem. New England sports a quick-strike aerial attack. Denver's offense crawls with a snail's pace, as the Broncos prefer to grind up yards slowly and methodically. That leads to minutes of possession, but not necessarily points.

So the Patriots can lose this. But they can't be dominated.

If the Broncos have an overwhelming advantage in time of possession, then the meaning swings back the other way. Broncos possession means Brady is on the sideline. The Patriots can afford some minutes, but not too many.

The Broncos want to keep the score low by keeping Brady off the field. If they're trouncing the Patriots in possession time, they'll be succeeding.

It's tough for any team to win a game in which its defense is out there for a large chunk of time. That's just not leaving yourself enough time to play offense and, therefore, score.

If the Broncos are on offense a lot longer than the Patriots, that plays right into their hands. That puts pressure on the New England defense to get off the field on third down, but it also puts the onus on Brady and the offense to sustain drives.

The Patriots can do in four minutes what might take the Broncos six, but they have to keep possession close. If they do, the game could turn into a track meet, which would have coach Bill Belichick and his team smiling all the way into the AFC Championship Game.

 

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