Just when you thought that Tim Tebow Mania was on its way out, the Denver Broncos quarterback phenom did the unthinkable and launched an 80-yard game-winning pass to Demaryius Thomas (who?) to beat heavily favored Pittsburgh 29-23 on the first play of overtime in the 2011 AFC Wildcard game on Sunday.
And now, he and the Broncos go to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA for a rematch with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Saturday, January 14. The Patriots beat them 41-23 in Denver on December 18, but it was by no means a piece of cake.
Tebow, as he is wont to do, ran ragged on the Patriots’ pathetic secondary and led the Broncos to three straight scoring drives, getting so far as a 16-7 lead in the second quarter of that game. Turnovers and the usual explosion of Brady’s offense later in the quarter (20 points) gave the Pats a lead they would never relinquish.
The “experts” who thought Tebow couldn’t beat two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger and his Steelers (no matter how hobbled they were) now think Tebow can’t win on the road in the playoffs (in Foxborough this weekend), even though the Broncos got the majority of their wins on the road during the regular season (5-3 away versus 3-5 at home). Further, the Broncos have the best running attack in the NFL, and the Pats’ run defense has worsened as the season has gone along. It can’t afford to be anywhere near as bad as its secondary (Kyle Arrington and his league-leading 7 INTs aside), but stopping both Willis McGahee and Tebow from running wild is too tall a task.
My home team (Patriots) have one saving grace: the defense’s ability to weather all storms thrown as it, and limit opponents’ red zone production, especially in the second half of games (the New York Giants game and loss at home on November 6 aside. It, by the way, was the last time the Pats lost a game).
The way I see it, the first team to hit the 24-28 point range will win this game. The Pats have spotted recent (and inferior) opponents like Miami and Buffalo 17 and 21 points in the first half before waking up and beating them convincingly. But this is the playoffs, and you can’t spot teams that many points and expect to come back and win.
What Tebow did to the NFL’s best passing defense (Pittsburgh) on Sunday (throwing two TDs and a career-high 316 yards) should scare the Jesus out of the Pats’ own middle-of-the-pack/average defense. New England also doesn’t have a great track record in beating Denver either and to ask for it to do it two times in one season would be unprecedented. (Keep in mind that Champ Bailey and his Broncos beat the Pats in this same round of playoffs exactly six years back on the date that this upcoming game will be played (January 14, 2006).
But what, you might ask, about the fact that the Pats have one of the best offenses in the league (next to Green Bay and New Orleans)? Three-time Super Bowl champ Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Wes Welker have had career years in some respects and have been on fire most of the year, but the offense can’t and won’t win a championship by itself. Do the names Rodney Harrison, Ty Law, Adam Vinatieri, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrable ring a bell? (And if anyone really thinks the return of Josh McDaniels as a newly minted “offensive assistant” will have a big impact on this game when he will only be on the job a week, you’re crazy.)
If it appears I am surprisingly negative in my predictions, there’s a good reason for it: I have a bad track record in picking my home town pro teams to win anything, so for a change, I’m going into a game of this magnitude with low expectations, with the hopes of a surprisingly pleasant result this time around. So I’m predicting an upset Tebow/Broncos victory, even though I’m obviously rooting for Brady and company to finally win their first playoff game since January of 2008.
Photo credits: Tebow (trendingsearches.com) and Brady (thirtysecondsurvey.com).