ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Sunday, the Broncos will resume their attempt to navigate the season-ending gauntlet of playoff contenders, knowing they need a win over a team that is 8-1 since Tom Brady returned from a suspension and undefeated on the road all season heading into Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
1. "DON'T PANIC"
It worked for the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide of the Galaxy, and it's sound advice on which to base your mindset for how you deal with a team as composed, consistent and confusing (for the opponent) as New England.
"There's always a little panic factor any time you play these guys, so you just try to tell guys, 'Don't panic,'" said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a veteran of seven games against the Patriots in his six seasons as a pro.
"There's going to be a time in the game where everybody's going to be on panic mode, though -- coaches, players, everybody. It happens every time. So everybody just has to be calm and understand that panic moment, panic time, is going to happen."
Sometimes, the Patriots generate that panic. At others, it's the knowledge that the Patriots can exploit a weakness -- such as the fourth quarter of the 2015 AFC Championship Game, by which point the safety corps was so depleted by injuries that Harris played safety for the first time since his college years.
"I had to go learn a whole position in the middle of the game!" Harris said. "Just somehow, man, in the past, it always ends up that somebody gets hurt and I always end up on [Rob Gronkowski]. Now he's not in, so luckily I don't have that look."
But even without Gronkowski, the Patriots have Martellus Bennett, who has 614 yards and five touchdowns on 48 receptions, including 70 yards and a score on four catches last Monday night.
"See, I might end up on him, too," Harris said. "It always happens like that. We play the Chiefs, something happens, and I always have to get [Travis] Kelce. They'll find a way, man."
- FORSETT IS UP TO SPEED**
Running back Justin Forsett's intelligence and experience in Head Coach Gary Kubiak's schemes ensured that his learning curve would be short.
"I think he's more comfortable this week than he was last week," Kubiak said.
"I was pretty comfortable going in last week, but even more so [this week]," Forsett said. "Just repetition and getting more of the terms under my belt and feeling comfortable with the guys and the system. Each week, I'll get better."
One reason why is quarterback Trevor Siemian. His work with Forsett in getting him in the right position before the snap is another example of the young quarterback's maturation.
"He's doing great communicating, putting me in the right spot, directing me on things that I may be uncertain on," Forsett said.
One example is in the two-minute offense, Kubiak noted.
"Trevor helped him; he was fine. He didn't have any mistakes," Kubiak said.
- DEEP PREPARATION IS NECESSARY**
It comes as no surprise that the Broncos and Patriots will both lean on the video of last season's meetings to search for tendencies and generate ideas as to how to better combat each other.
But those two games represent only the tip of an iceberg of data and game footage that the teams will dissect.
"We always go back. We'll go back to when the Texans played them [while Wade Phillips was their defensive coordinator] just to see what things they ran then against Wade," Harris said.
"They're going to go all the way back and look, so we have to go back and look."
The on-field preparation for New England is over. After Friday's practice, the Broncos are ready for a crucial Week 15 matchup. (photos by Ben Swanson)
- BUT THERE WILL BE NEW WRINKLES**
Harris said his preparation is helped by the fact that he remembers so much of what the Patriots threw at him last year -- especially in the AFC Championship Game.
But lingering over all of the Broncos' preparation is the expectation of new wrinkles from New England's offense, and different points of emphasis than they've had over the course of the season.
"They're going to come up with something new, something that we haven't seen, just because we've seen them so many times," Harris said.
"It's a credit to Bill [Belichick]," Kubiak said. "They've been doing it a long time. They do a lot with their players and they get it done."
There's only one certainty Harris knows about the Patriots' game plan.
"You always expect Brady's best," he said.
5. KREITER'S SEASON ENDS
With no more than eight weeks left in the season if the Broncos make it to Super Bowl LI, long snapper Casey Kreiter's season is over after the Broncos placed him on injured reserve Friday.
For the previous 23 days, the Broncos held on to hope that Krieter could return from the calf injury he suffered during practice on Nov. 23.
"We tried to hang on," Kubiak said. "We thought that maybe it would be a two-week type of thing, and put him back on the field early this week, and it just wasn't good."
Thomas Gafford will handle long-snapping chores for the rest of the season.