Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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CAR at MIA JAC at HOU SD at KC On Bye:

Prediction: DEN 34, NE 31 (Line: DEN by 2.5)

Update: Aqib Talib is questionable to play and won't be healthy if he does which bodes better for the Broncos passing and probably Demaryius Thomas in particular. Wes Welker returned for limited work on Thursday and then turned in a full practice on Friday. He is upgraded to probable and should have a nice reunion with his old team. Julius Thomas was only able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and is expected to be a game time decision because of his knee. I am removing him from the projections and realize too this would be the last Sunday night game so his status may not be known until after all the other Sunday games are played.

Game of the week. At least we hope so. Manning vs. Brady is one of those NFL staples every year and even once they retire, someone will figure out a way to pit the two against each other even though they were never on the field at the same time. The 9-1 Broncos have only lost once in the emotional homecoming in Indy. The 7-3 Patriots are a perfect 5-0 at home but come off a short week and an emotional loss of their own. We just have to hope that Wes Welker recovers from his concussion in time because how great would it be to watch him shred the Patriots?

The Patriots won this matchup last year also at home 31-21.

1 BAL 49-27 10 @SD 28-20
2 @NYG 41-23 11 KC 27-17
3 OAK 37-21 12 @NE -
4 PHI 52-20 13 @KC -
5 @DAL 51-48 14 TEN -
6 JAC 35-19 15 SD -
7 @IND 33-39 16 @HOU -
8 WAS 45-21 17 @OAK -
9 BYE WEEK ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
DEN @ NE Rush Catch Pass
QB Peyton Manning 360,3
RB Montee Ball 20
WR Emmanuel Sanders 3-50
WR Demaryius Thomas 7-110,1

Pregame Notes: All games are important when you want the #1 seed and there is no real difference between the Pats and any other team in terms of "need to win". There is also the matter of facing the Chiefs in Kansas City next week that may very well determine which team gets the #1 seed and which one has to play on the road in the wildcard round. These next two games define the season for the Broncos and they could be without two key receivers potentially.

QUARTERBACKS: The Chiefs were the first team to hold Peyton Manning to only one passing touchdown though he recorded his ninth 300+ yard effort on the year and threw no interceptions for the second week in a row. Manning has been deadly in road games this year but may be without a couple of receivers that would impact what he does. Basically, it would mean he still has better starting wideouts than just about any other team with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

RUNNING BACKS: The Broncos changed it up last week when Knowshon Moreno ran for a season high 27 carries but only gained 79 yards and never caught a pass. Moreno has nor scored for two games now and not being used a receiver is a big switch since he was getting five or more receptions in almost every game. Even bigger surprise - a huge game and they relied on Montee Ball for eight runs for 25 yards and two touchdowns plus a season high three catches for 16 yards. All that after a fumbled exchange with Manning that was credited to the quarterback. Julius Thomas was lost for much of last week's game but that didn't result in any more catches by a running back. The use of Ball around the endzone and as a receiver really impacts the fantasy value of Moreno but it was just one game... so far...

WIDE RECEIVERS: Wes Welker was concussed last week and yet still played for another series until they realized it. His status is important to the offense anyway but would provide a delicious matchup against his old team only this time with Manning throwing to him instead of Brady. I will assume that he can play and adjust later. He would have a significant impact on the offense. Demaryius Thomas has been red hot in almost every game anyway and any loss of Welker would likely lead to more use of Eric Decker. This is the most prolific set of wideouts in the NFL and playing the Pats without Welker or possibly Julius Thomas shrinks the offense back to what it was last year.

Last year in New England, Decker only caught four passes for 21 yards and one score. Thomas racked up 180 yards on nine receptions. Welker turned in 13 catches for 104 yards and one touchdown only it was for the Patriots and not the Broncos.

TIGHT ENDS: Julius Thomas sprained his knee and missed most of the Chiefs game. HC Jack Del Rio claims it is just a sprain and says he is day-to-day. It appeared to be a hyperextension when he knee was bent back when hit by a defender's helmet. He'll be tracked all week and updated as needed. I will assume he can play at least a limited role.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The Patriots at home allowed at least a couple of scores to most quarterbacks and Manning is the top of the position this year. If Ben Roethlisberger can throw for 400 yards and four scores there, Manning should be okay. A positive note too is that CB Aqib Talib re-injured his hip in the Monday night game and may be questionable this week since he was held out. That would have a big effect on the wideouts since Talib is the only good corner that they have. The Patriots have been very good against the run at home with only two runners scoring there but this is a juggernaut coming to town. No reason not to start Manning, Moreno, Decker, Welker and both Thomas's assuming the they are all healthy. The Broncos will compete plenty well even without Welker and Orange Julius but they'll make the offense far tougher to defend if they play.

Gaining Fantasy Points DEN 1 3 1 2 4 12
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 18 17 15 10 9 11


1 @BUF 23-21 10 BYE WEEK
2 NYJ 13-10 11 @CAR 20-24
3 TB 23-3 12 DEN -
4 @ATL 30-23 13 @HOU -
5 @CIN 6-13 14 CLE -
6 NO 30-27 15 @MIA -
7 @NYJ 27-30 16 @BAL -
8 MIA 27-17 17 BUF -
9 PIT 55-31 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
NE vs DEN Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady 330,3
RB LeGarrette Blount 30
WR Danny Amendola 5-50
WR Aaron Dobson 3-60,1
TE Rob Gronkowski 7-90,1
PK Stephen Gostkowski 1 FG 4 XP

Pregame Notes: Losing to the Panthers drops the Patriots back into a tie for the #2 seed so far and a loss here will be tough but it wouldn't mean a lot necessarily. The Patriots are not going to catch the Broncos or Chiefs for the #1 seed regardless and the rest of the schedule is pretty light after this week other than two possible problems with final road games against the Dolphins and Ravens. Winning on the road has been the problem all year and would not improve in the playoffs. This is a big week since it is a national game on Sunday night. The Pats have to bring their "A" game to hang with the Broncos because the defense is about to face a whole new level of offensive output by the Broncos.

QUARTERBACKS: It is still hard to get a read on where Tom Brady is at and whether that hand of his is bad or not. Consider week nine when he threw for 432 yards and four scores on the Steelers and all is well with the world. Disregard that and Brady only threw three touchdowns total over the other five most recent games. Getting back Shane Vereen seemed to offer yet another weapon but in the end they still lost to the Panthers on Monday night and only threw for one touchdown. Brady is going to have to rekindle the Steeler magic this week.

RUNNING BACKS: Brandon Bolden became the odd man out when Shane Vereen returned. Though he was back after a ten week absence, there was no easing of Vereen into the offensive flow. He only ran once but caught eight passes for 65 yards as Brady's new best friend. There were no signs of his wrist still bothering him or any rust for that matter. There has not been a third down back in his absence. Now there is and that's going to be an every week deal. Vereen ran for 101 yards and caught seven passes for 58 yards in the season opener.

Stevan Ridley still scored for the five straight week but he was only given 13 carries to gain 48 yards. Ridley still take most of the rushing duties and is the goal line back but Vereen will cut into his action. Plus the Pats still relied on LeGarrette Blount for ten runs last week as the pounder and short yardage guy. Vereen has fantasy value again and Ridley just took at least a minor hit in workload.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Last week was a full complement of wideouts but they faced one of the elite secondaries in the NFL. This unit still provides plenty of production but with four wide receivers at play it will be nearly impossible to forecast which one might do better. The addition of Vereen is a big hit for Danny Amendola since he takes the short and over the middle routes too and Brady likes Vereen much more. Add in a healthy Rob Gronkowski and it makes it even more convoluted just like they want it to be. Aaron Dobson is providing a deep role that is not affected by Vereen or Gronkowski but even he was held to just 38 yards last week. Dobson scored three times in the two previous weeks and will remain a deep threat if they over-commit to the shorter passing.

TIGHT ENDS: Rob Gronkowski ended with five catches for 59 yards and one score in Carolina and he was the intended target for what would have been a game winning touchdown were it not for <insert your own take on the final play>. But Gronk was never even targeted until almost half time and it felt like Vereen was siphoning off at least a couple of throws that may have once gone to the tight end. There is an equal chance that Vereen will affect the coverages so that it benefits Gronkowski as some point.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: This cannot be another one touchdown game for Brady and expect to remain in the game. The Broncos are weak against the pass but mostly because they get so far ahead that opponents have to spend the entire second half catching up. Brady has to show up here with high yardage and multiple scores because anything less says that the Patriots are only as good as their schedule lets them be. They have a full deck now. The Broncos allow plenty of yardage to passers and receivers. Favorable is a weakness against tight ends. The running backs can play a role here but that depends on how well the Pats can keep the Denver offense from scoring and making it a shootout. Brady, Gronkowski, Vereen and Ridley are all must starts. Amendola, Dobson and Thompkins have definite upside but are risky to rely on.

Gaining Fantasy Points NE 27 6 10 23 1 15
Preventing Fantasy Points DEN 27 21 20 27 19 10

CAR at MIA JAC at HOU SD at KC On Bye:

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