ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos, for the second consecutive week, will prepare for a game against the Patriots.
But while the opponent remains the same, much about the matchup has now changed. There are implications from a revised schedule and the chance of significantly different lineups.
In this edition of "Ask Aric," we examine how some of the differences could determine whether the Broncos can earn a win in New England. By the time the Broncos kick off Sunday, they will have gone 17 days in between games. In the meantime, though, let's get to your questions.
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Who will be back for the Broncos next week? Does the extra week off give the Patriots more players back and the advantage? - Chance C.
Chance, I think the Broncos are most likely to get back players like Drew Lock and Mike Purcell. Lock was limited all of last week, while Purcell was limited on Saturday — and both players were listed as questionable. Fangio hasn't spoken specifically about Purcell in recent days, but he acknowledged that Lock was unlikely to play if the game had been held Monday. He said the team would continue to evaluate how the quarterback looked in practice, but I think there's a decent chance Lock makes his return against the Patriots. Players like Noah Fant and KJ Hamler may be less likely to play, as they didn't practice at all last week. Then there's players on IR like A.J. Bouye, Dre'Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker. All three players are eligible to return this week and would provide a boon for the Broncos' defense. If the Broncos could get even two or three of these players back — including Lock and Purcell — their odds of winning in New England should increase. As you mentioned, though, the Patriots could be poised to get both Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore back. That obviously changes the nature of the matchup.
Fangio has done an amazing job this year with all the adversity the team has faced with injuries. With that said this is a win-now league, do you feel like his job is jeopardy? - Shawn S.
Shawn, I agree with you that this is a win-now league, but nothing suggests to me that Vic Fangio's status would be anything but secure. Despite losing a slew of Pro Bowlers that include Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, Bouye and Jurrell Casey and their starting quarterback in Drew Lock, the Broncos have remained competitive. There's no doubt that results matter, but two of the Broncos' losses came by a combined seven points against a pair of teams that are both undefeated through Week 5. Fangio has already seen three different quarterbacks start for his team and in Week 2 featured a pair of rookie starters in the secondary. It's been an unusual season, but Fangio has done his part to keep the team on track.
Will the early bye week affect the Broncos? - Jayven S.
Well, it's certainly going to impact the team in some way. There are clearly disadvantages when you're forced to play 12 games in a row, like the Broncos will have to do now that their bye week was changed to Week 5. I will say, though, that there's a way to look at this move as a positive for Denver. The Broncos will have to play fewer games without players like Lock, Bouye and Fant because of the adjusted bye week. That doesn't mean they're guaranteed to play this weekend, but it is one fewer game that they'll miss on the schedule. Lots of teams like to use their bye week later in the season to recover from being a bit beat up. Well, the Broncos have been beat up for several weeks now, so perhaps it's nice that they will have gone 17 days between their Oct. 1 game against the Jets and their Oct. 18 game in New England. We may not know until Weeks 13 or 14 how this truly impacts the Broncos, but right now, I think it's perhaps not as harmful to Denver's chances as it may appear.
Will Stephon GiImore play? Not having the reigning NFL DPOY should be very helpful to the Bronco's offense. — William L.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn't offered specifics on any of the players on the Patriots' Reserve/COVID-19 list, but NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported early this week that Gilmore is likely to return in Week 6. Gilmore, according to Giardi's report, has remained asymptomatic, and under the league's protocols, a player can be approved to be activated off a team's Reserve/COVID-19 list if he is asymptomatic for 10 days. Even if that player is still receiving positive tests, he is technically eligible to be cleared and return. If Gilmore does play, that's obviously an immense challenge for the Broncos' offense. During Gilmore's Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2019, he intercepted six passes, broke up 20 total, scored a pair of touchdowns and made 53 tackles. Put simply, he's as good a playmaker as there is in the NFL on the back end of the defense.
Who is the game day back-up QB? Do they have any QB experience, or are they just going to hand off the ball? - John B.
John, when Drew Lock went down against the Steelers, CBS announced that Royce Freeman would serve as the emergency quarterback if Jeff Driskel was injured. It seems unlikely that the Broncos would ever go into a game with three active quarterbacks, so I'd assume Freeman is the emergency quarterback moving forward. According to some brief research, Freeman didn't play quarterback at Imperial (Calif.) High School, so I'd expect the Broncos would transition to a run-heavy approach that resembled a Wildcat-style offense. Freeman has shown off his arm before, though. As a freshman at Oregon, he threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Mariota. Not bad for a 6-foot, 238-pound running back, huh?