BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots are looking to snap a three-game losing streak in the playoffs Saturday night when they host the Denver Broncos in a Divisional Round matchup.
The Patriots already handled Tim Tebow and the Broncos once in the regular season, but after their showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, Denver has some momentum in their favor.
Here are five Patriots to keep an eye on come Saturday night.
Tom Brady began his playoff career winning his first 10 games, throwing 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. But after three Lombardi Trophies, Brady has come back down to earth. He is just 4-5 in his last nine playoff games, throwing 13 interceptions to his 16 touchdowns.
Win or lose, Brady will set some history on Saturday. With a win, he will become just the second QB with 15 postseason wins, joining Joe Montana and his 16 postseason victories. With a loss, he would become just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to lose four straight postseason games.
Brady has been taking a backseat to the Tebow hype all week. Saturday would be the perfect time to steal back the spotlight.
Chung was injured when the Pats and Broncos met up in Week 15, but his return should go a long way for New England in the playoffs. Denver was able to run all over the Pats to start that game in Denver, bursting through the Pats first, second, and final line of defense with ease. Having the hard-hitting Chung out there should keep the Broncos run attack to more “human” numbers than the 252 rushing yards they had in December.
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He was also one of the goats of last year’s playoff loss to the Jets, calling for a fake punt right before halftime. Look for Chung to make amends that blunder, as he injects more energy into a secondary that has been flat nearly all season.
The rookie running back saw his workload increase as the season wound down, getting 39 of his 87 carries over the final three weeks. Ridley has run the ball well when given the chance, averaging just over five-yards per carry.
The Pats should try to establish some kind of run game early on, and could look towards Ridley to do that. If they get out to a big lead, look for the rookie back to get some touches to kill some clock. That is what he did in Week 15, getting five of his 11 carries in the final frame. Ridley ran for 65 of New England’s 141 rushing yards in the 41-23 win.
Rob Ninkovich had difficulties keeping track of Tim Tebow in December, mostly because of the coverage from tight end Virgil Green. Look for Mayo to make more of an impact on Saturday, keeping tabs on the versatile QB. Mayo led the way with eight tackles in Week 15, which is the one thing the Patriots defense will need most this weekend. They missed a lot of tackles early on in Denver, letting the Broncos burn them in that first quarter.
Mayo should feel a little better with Chung back behind him, and he will be hungry for his first career playoff victory. Look for the defensive captain to put up more big tackling numbers, and make sure Tebow doesn’t run wild again.
Branch has been quiet this season, with Tom Brady going more to Wes Welker and his tight end duo. The 10-year veteran fought a groin injury at the end of the season, but his chemistry with Brady cannot be overlooked. Bill Belichick said Thursday that Branch is one of the best receivers at being at the right place at the right time.
The Broncos focused heavily on Welker and Gronkowski the first time out, letting Hernandez break out with nine receptions. Even Chad Ochocinco got in on the fun, hauling in his only touchdown of the season. If the Broncos focus too much on Hernandez, Gronk or Welker, Branch and Brady will make them pay.
Tune in to the Patriots-Broncos playoff game Saturday night at 8pm on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV. Pregame coverage begins Saturday at 5pm with Patriots Preview on 98.5, with a special edition of Patriots GameDay on WBZ-TV at 7pm. After the game, stay tuned for Patriots Postgame on The Hub, and Patriots 5th Quarter on WBZ-TV.