3 Things to watch
1. Broncos QB situation. Drew Lock has been progressing from the right shoulder injury that’s had the Broncos quarterback sidelined since the first quarter of Week 2. Coach Vic Fangio’s indicated he will only play Lock if he believes the shoulder is completely healed, with Brett Rypien in line for his second straight start if Lock can’t go. Either way, there are lots of questions: Can Rypien deliver another W on the road? Will it take time for Lock to settle back in if he plays?
2. Patriots QB situation. New England starter Cam Newton missed the Patriots’ Week 4 loss to the Chiefs due to coronavirus, and reserve signal-callers Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham combined for three interceptions and plenty of ineptitude in the defeat. Whether Newton can be cleared for Monday’s postponed game — he must test negative for COVID-19 twice, and those two tests must come at least 24 hours apart — will be a big factor in the potency of New England’s offense.
3. Dalton Keene watch. The Littleton native and Chatfield High product was selected by the Patriots in the third round (No. 101 overall) of April’s draft. But the former Virginia Tech standout has yet to make his NFL debut, as he’s been inactive for four straight games, the last two as a healthy scratch. There’s a possibility Keene could finally see the field against his hometown team, especially considering the Patriots’ lack of production at tight end so far.
Who has the edge?
When the Patriots run
New England’s ground game has been sound, averaging 179.8 yards to rank second in the NFL. Starting tailback Sony Michel is on injured reserve, but the Patriots have additional depth in Damien Harris, James White and Rex Burkhead.
When the Patriots pass
Without Newton, Hoyer and Stidham don’t bring much to the table, although wideouts Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry all have big-play potential. Rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia will likely continue his trial-by-fire season.
When the Broncos run
Denver’s rushing game has been atrocious, averaging 92.5 yards to rank next-to-last. The return of Phillip Lindsay (toe) would be a boost as the Broncos face a mediocre Patriots run defense (115.3 yards/game, 17th in NFL).
When the Broncos pass
Denver’s tied for last in the NFL with six interceptions thrown. But, Jerry Jeudy had his first touchdown catch last week, and with another 50-yard receiving game, he’d be the third rookie in NFL history with five straight games of 50 or more yards to start his career. New England’s secondary, meanwhile, is a strong point even without All-Pro defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who tested positive for COVID.
McManus is 6-of-7 on field goals, and has already drilled three from 50-plus yards. Diontae Spencer looks like he’s priming for his first career touchdown return. New England has found decent stability in veteran kicker Nick Folk.
Ryan O’Halloran, beat writer: Broncos 21, Patriots 17
When in doubt, pick the team that was actually allowed to practice during the week. More seriously, though, a Cam Newton-less New England offense will be held in check by the Broncos’ defense (four sacks, three takeaways).
Kyle Newman, beat writer: Patriots 24, Broncos 21
The depleted, ill-prepared Patriots are too tough to bring down at home, especially for a Denver offense that’s scored more than 24 points only three times in 20 games under Fangio.
Sean Keeler, columnist: COVID 19, Broncos 13
Bill Belichick is sketchy when it comes to information — and ethics, to put it mildly — in “normal” times. Gamesmanship and competitive advantage is one thing. People’s health and safety are another. Beating the Pats on the road was always going to be a tough ask, whether it’s Drew Lock or Brett Rypien under center. With the COVID-19 situation in New England right now, the Broncos and the NFL have got bigger problems.