Broncos vs. Patriots betting preview and pick – Denver a dependable road favorite

The AFC’s No. 1 seed could ultimately be decided Sunday night in New England when the Patriots host the Broncos (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

With a victory, the Broncos (6-1 SU and 4-3 ATS) would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots (6-2 SU and 4-4 ATS). And with wins over the Colts, Chiefs and Chargers already to their credit, as well as a perfect conference record of 5-0, Denver would exit Foxborough with the AFC in its control.

The Patriots, on the other hand, would vault to the top of the conference standings with a victory over Denver, which has been installed as about a field-goal favorite. A win would also run the Patriots record to 3-1 against the Broncos since Peyton Manning’s Denver arrival in 2012. What’s more, a win would also improve the Patriots’ record to 12-5 straight-up (.706) and 14-3 against the spread (.824) as home underdogs in Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach.

And for the record, four of those victories and covers have come against Manning-led teams, including three with Tom Brady at quarterback. The lone loss came November 7, 2005, when the Colts (-3) rolled to a 40-21 victory at Gillette Stadium.

Nearly nine years later, another strong club with Manning at the helm comes to Foxborough expected to win. But delivering as favorites hasn’t been easy for visitors in the Brady-Belichick era. 

The Line: Broncos -3 (-120),  Total: 55

Line movement: Multiple sports books that opened Denver -3.5 have moved to Denver -3 with added juice on the favorite. The South Point is dealing -3 (-110), however, as its policy is not to come off the standard 10-cent vig.  Also, Wynn Las Vegas is offering New England +3.5 (-120).

The total is as high as 55.5. The question is, will it move any higher? The Stations sports books briefly moved to 56, but the total quickly dropped a half-point back to 55.5.

For updated lines from around Las Vegas, visit our live odds page .

Note: Line movement is cited from VegasInsider.com and Pregame.com. 

Trends that matter: The Broncos are 10-3 against the spread as road favorites of three points or more with Manning under center (.769).

Since 2012, the UNDER is 4-5 in Denver games with totals of 55 points or more.

Since 2009, the Patriots are 13-5 straight-up (.722) and 11-7 (.611) against the spread in November. The OVER is 12-5-1 in that span (.706).

The Patriots are 7-7 straight-up and against the spread versus Denver in Belichick’s tenure.

Note: Historical point spread trends are cited from the Spreadapedia database .

Gronkowski the Patriots’ key weapon: When these teams last met in January, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was sidelined because of an ACL tear. However, Gronkowski is back for the rematch – and he appears back in top form. In New England’s 51-23 win over Chicago Sunday, Gronkowski shredded the Bears’ defense for nine catches and 149 yards and three touchdowns. With Tim Wright (7-61-1 versus Chicago) becoming a bigger part of the offense of late, the Patriots have the makings of a strong 1-2 punch at tight end.

Battle of the secondaries: The Patriots lost cornerback Aqib Talib to Denver early in free agency. New England countered by signing Darrelle Revis (ex-Tampa Bay) and Brandon Browner (ex-Seattle). Then, in the draft, the Broncos added cornerback Bradley Roby in Round One.

All of those moves were surely made with games like Sunday nights in mind. And the outcome could very well come down to which team’s passing game operates more smoothly. Manning and Brady will complete the bulk of their passes, but which defense will prove better getting off the field on third downs?

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots cover Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229). Will Revis (5-11, 198) shadow him, or will the Pats simply play their defense and let Browner (6-4, 221) take his shot against Denver’s top wideout, too? Browner’s play bears watching; if he can hold up against Thomas, it could give the Patriots to put Revis on Emmanuel Sanders (5-11, 180), who's having a breakout season.

Talib (6-1, 205) has the size and length to match up well with big outside targets, including Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell (6-3, 210). The Broncos’ other starting cornerback, Chris Harris Jr., is quick and active. Through eight games, no cornerback earned a higher grade in pass coverage from Pro Football Focus s than Harris (5-10, 199). Roby (5-11, 192) has flashed intriguing ability early in his NFL career.

Broncos, Patriots leaning on untested backs: Injuries have forced both clubs to change their plans at running back. The Patriots have turned to former practice-squader Jonas Gray (5-10, 225) to help replace Stevan Ridley, who’s out for the season with an ACL tear. The Broncos, meanwhile, have gotten a lift from the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ronnie Hillman, whose quickness has sparked the running game in the absence of Montee Ball (thigh).

However, Sunday is a big test for Gray and Hillman. Taking care of the football must be the top priority. Hillman struggled with ball security earlier in his career but has just one fumble in 86 touches this season.

Injuries that matter: Both clubs have some bumps and bruises, but these are two deep, well-coached teams. The Patriots, however, will be without key defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) – a blow to their pass rush.

Visit here for all Week 9 NFL injuries.

Weather: It will be chilly in Foxborough, with temperatures in the low-40s and winds of about 12 mph expected. There's a small chance of rain. Visit Weather Underground for the latest forecast.

Handicapping help: Matchup analysis | Power Ratings | DEN team page | NE team page

The Linemakers’ lean: This line offers value -- on which side depends who you ask. The Linemakers' Micah Roberts says the number here should be closer to Denver -1, so a field goal – or better yet, +3.5 – is a take for him. Kenny White, though, is happy to lay a field goal with the juggernaut Broncos, which brings the better D to Foxborough on Sunday.

Kenny and Micah, though, are in agreement on the OVER, as New England’s last five games have all gone OVER, and Denver is on a 4-0 O/U run. When these teams met last November in Foxborough, the score was 34-31 amidst windy conditions. More supporting trends: New England is 15-5 O/U in its last 20 November home games, and Denver is 16-4-1 in its last 21 on FieldTurf.

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