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Patriots

What To Watch For: Another Brady-Manning Battle

By Matthew Geagan, CBSBoston
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images), Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images).

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images), Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images).

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BOSTON (CBS) – A few things to watch for as the Patriots host the Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon.

Peyton The Bronco

Everyone has a different opinion of Peyton Manning this season. Some say he is the same old Peyton, while others say he’s a shell of his former self after missing all of last season. He had his way against the Raiders last week to the tune of 338 yards and three touchdowns, so we’ll see which Manning he is against an improving Patriots defense.

He’ll be under pressure from Chandler Jones, and the rest of the Patriots defense is coming off a game in Buffalo where they delivered some of the hardest hits in recent memory. As Gresh & Zo noted this week, Manning has been using his feet a little more this season to buy more time, but he’ll want to be aware of Brandon Spikes; the last thing he and his neck need is to be on the receiving end of one of those bone-crushing hits.

Gresh & Zo Whiteboard: Peyton On The Run?

Manning doesn’t have the same weapons he did while with the Colts, but Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are more than reliable receivers, and both will give the Patriots secondary issues. When Manning throws up those lame-duck passes — which are still better than a lot of quarterback’s best throws — the Pats have to take advantage. Letting a Manning mistake slip through their hands will prove to be costly.

Brady Has Figured Out Denver

After starting his career losing six of his first seven match ups against the Broncos (including the playoffs), Brady seems to have finally figured them out. The departure of Mike Shanahan might have something to do with that, but Brady torched Denver in both of their meetings in 2011, throwing for eight touchdowns (six alone in their 45-10 AFC Divisional Playoff win) and 683 yards.

Brady is coming off his best game of the season, throwing three touchdowns and racking up 340 yards against the Bills last week, and he always rises to the occasion against Peyton Manning. Look for another monster game out of Brady, as long as the offensive line gives him enough time against Denver pass-rushers like Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller.

Just don’t look for a repeat of last year’s punt by Brady; that was once in a blue moon occurrence.

Read: Week 5 Picks

Hernandez Returns?

Three weeks ago when Aaron Hernandez was limping off the field, it was thought he could miss up to six weeks. But he gauged his inner super-human and returned to practice this week, and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s tilt.

It’s unclear if Hernandez will actually play, or how effective he will be if he does hit the field. But when Hernandez hits the field, defenses have to honor him. Even if he isn’t 100-percent, Hernandez as a decoy will open up opportunities for everyone else; from Wes Welker to Rob Gronkowski to whatever running back is on the field for New England.

Ankle sprains are tricky, so if Hernandez can’t play he shouldn’t. We all saw how ineffective Rob Gronkowski was in the Super Bowl last season (although it was a different sprain and the Giants vaunted defense is a bit different from that of the Broncos). The last thing the Patriots need is losing their versatile tight end by rushing him back for a Week 5 meeting with the Broncos. But it’s hard not to trust that Bill Belichick and the Pats medical staff to make the right call.

Gostkowski Bouncing Back

There is no doubt Stephen Gostkowski is having a rough season. He missed two easy kicks last week in Buffalo, which is only magnified by his game-winning miss against Arizona three weeks ago.

But like any other kicker Gostkowski has moved on from his misses, and likened the life of a kicker to surfing.

“It’s a cycle and you go through ups and downs. You have to ride the wave,” he said earlier this week. “I’ve got knocked off the board a couple times this year, and I’m going to get right back up there. “

Read: Patriots-Broncos Predictions

“My confidence will always be good,” he said. “I’ve done this for so long, and I’ve had so many ups and downs. Things have a way of working themselves out, whether good or bad. I don’t worry about things I can’t control. I just control how hard I work and how hard I concentrate.”

Analogies are fun, but made field goals are better.

Tune in to Patriots-Broncos this Sunday at 4:25pm on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV. Pregame coverage begins with Patriots Gameday at 11:30am on WBZ-TV, and with Patriots Preview at 1pm on 98.5. Following the game, tune in to 3-hours of post game coverage on the Hub, and Patriots 5th Quarter on MyTV3

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