Game Preview: Patriots at Broncos

The Patriots travel to face the Denver Broncos on Sunday, December 24, 2023 at 8:15 PM ET.

The New England Patriots will play their last two road games of the 2023 season in back-to-back weeks, starting on Christmas Eve at Denver followed by a trip to Buffalo for a rematch against the Bills. Denver has overcome a 1-5 start to even their record at 7-7 and remain in the hunt for an spot in the AFC postseason field.

The Patriots will play on Christmas Eve for the eighth time in team history. The Patriots own a 5-3 record in those games.

The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos will meet for the first time since an 18-12 Denver win at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 18, 2020.

The Patriots will play at Denver for the first time since a 41-16 Patriots win in a Sunday Night Football game on Nov. 12, 2017.

Denver leads the overall series by a 27-22 margin in the regular season and a 4-1 margin in the postseason. The Patriots and Broncos have played in three Divisional Playoff games and two AFC Championship Games.

The Patriots have played more games against the Broncos than any other team that has never been in New England’s division with 54 matchups.

The history between the teams dates back to the initial season of the American Football League in 1960. The Patriots played the Broncos in the inaugural game of each franchise, a 13-10 Denver win on Sept. 9, 1960, at BU Field in Boston. The teams squared off twice a year in the decade prior to the AFL-NFL merger, except for 1967 and 1969.


Home Record: 12-10 (1-0 playoffs)
Road Record: 11-21 (0-4 playoffs)
Total Points in the Series: Broncos 1,216, Patriots 1,185
Bill Belichick vs. Denver: 10-14 (10-10 with New England)

By Paul Perillo

When the Patriots run – Edge: Broncos

Something will have to give when these teams get together. The Patriots head to Denver with one of the worst rushing attacks in football, ranking 25th in the league while averaging just over 98 yards per game. They will meet a Broncos defense that is even worse against the run, ranking dead last in both yards allowed (146.9) and yards per carry (5.2). The state of the offensive line, as well as Rhamondre Stevenson’s ankle, won’t help the Patriots take advantage of that weakness, however. Trent Brown missed the Chiefs game while Cole Strange (knee) and Conor McDermott (head) were unable to finish the game. So there will be some mixing and matching up front for the Patriots in this one. Ezekiel Elliott has struggled on the ground in the two games Stevenson has missed. He averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against the Chiefs after barely squeaked above 3 yards per rush in the win over Pittsburgh. Stevenson has yet to practice since going down with the high ankle sprain so his availability on Christmas Eve is very much in doubt. And in reality many of the Broncos numbers on defense are greatly skewed by the disastrous performance in Miami earlier in the season when they allowed 70 points including 350 rushing yards. Linebackers Alex Singleton, Jonathon Cooper and Josey Jewell are better players than the numbers show, and the Patriots are unlikely to find that kind of success Sunday night.

When the Patriots pass – Edge: Broncos

Again, the numbers for the Broncos defense do not look great but aren’t necessarily indicative of its play over the course of the season. The 70-point collapse impacted the secondary as well, and since then the performance has improved greatly. This has been especially true when it comes to taking the ball away, which Denver has done at an alarming rate. During the team’s five-game winning streak the Broncos forced 16 turnovers and consistently set up the offense on short fields. The secondary is solid, led by young standout corner Patrick Surtain. He joins Fabian Moreau, Ja’Quan McMillian and safeties Justin Simmons and P.J. Locke. Veteran Kareem Jackson is eligible to return after serving a four-game suspension as well. That group has suffered through a few hiccups, such as Saturday night’s 42-17 loss in Detroit, but overall has been competitive. The Patriots haven’t been able consistently move the ball through the air all season long, even since Bailey Zappe took over as quarterback. He did seem to find some comfort with Hunter Henry and to a lesser extent DeVante Parker during the loss to the Chiefs, but Henry was banged up by the end of that game. Expect the Broncos, playing at home with a passionate crowd behind them, to continue to make life difficult on the Patriots offense.

When the Broncos run – Edge: Patriots

No one has been able to run the ball against the Patriots this season and the Broncos don’t figure to be the team that breaks that trend. Denver has been just average when it comes to running the ball, ranking 14th in the league with 112.7 yards per game and 12th at 4.2 yards per carry. Even those modest numbers are misleading given the fact that Russell Wilson’s 321 rushing yards bolster the total. Javontae Williams is Denver’s lead back but averages just 3.7 yards per carry and has only one rushing touchdown all season. Backup Jaleel McLaughlin has been productive in spurts, averaging 5.6 yards on his 58 carries. But the Patriots have shut down far more dangerous rushing attacks than this one, and the way Christian Barmore has dominated as of late doesn’t bode well for the hosts. Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux and Barmore have owned the line of scrimmage over the past several weeks and no one has been able to muster much of anything on the ground. Assuming the Patriots front seven is relatively intact, that won’t change against the Broncos on Christmas Eve.

When the Broncos pass – Edge: Patriots

Denver’s passing game has been sporadic at best all season. While in many ways Wilson has enjoyed a resurgent season in 2023, he still struggles to find consistency even from series to series. At times he resembles his old self from his Seattle days, moving effectively around the pocket to buy time for his receivers to uncover. Then there are occasions when he holds the ball too long and takes unnecessary sacks and forces passes that lead to turnovers. He’s completing over 66 percent of his throws for 2,832 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight picks. He’s been sacked 40 times, however, and the negative plays have been a drag on the offense. Wilson does have some dangerous weapons to choose from, led by Courtland Sutton. Sutton has 58 catches for 770 yards with 10 touchdowns and is a big-play threat. Jerry Jeudy has been inconsistent but chips in with 45 grabs for 581 yards and a touchdown. Wilson also likes to use his backs and all three – Williams, McLaughlin and Samaje Perine – have been productive as receivers. The Patriots secondary has struggled at times, particularly against Kansas City, but the inconsistent nature of Wilson should allow them to compete.

Special Teams – Edge: Broncos

The Patriots litany of special teams issues provided another chapter in the loss to the Chiefs. Chad Ryland missed a 41-yard field goal, Brenden Schooler was called for a penalty that negated a big kickoff return to open the game, Bryce Baringer shanked a 37-yard punt and the Chiefs Richie James had punt returns of 15 and 18 yards. So, the problems in the kicking game are many. Denver kicker Wil Lutz has been solid with just a pair of misses on both field goals (29) and PATs (27). But it’s the return game where Denver poses some problems as Marvin Mims leads the league in both punt and kick returns. Mims averages 16.9 yards on 13 punt returns and 28.5 yards on kickoffs, including a 99-yard touchdown. The Patriots have struggled in every area of special teams this season and while Denver’s altitude should eliminate Mims’ impact on kickoffs there are still plenty of aspects to be concerned with.