By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
After a bizarre and stressful two weeks, we finally get back to Patriots football on Sunday. After two postponements, the Patriots will finally host the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
While both sides are cleared to play, the extra week off will have a sizable impact on the outcome of the game. From injured/sick players returning to extra time to practice, the lead up to this one has been unique, to say the least.
Before we get to that though, let's take a look at one matchup that pits two of the best young players at their respective positions against each other...
When New England has the ball: Isaiah Wynn vs. Bradley Chubb
Just 12 games into his NFL career, Isaiah Wynn has become somewhat of an anchor for the Patriots offensive line. Through four games, he's the only player to not miss time or change positions. He's been as reliable as he's been durable, allowing just two pressures (and no sacks) in 270 snaps.
This week, Wynn will face his biggest test of the season in the Broncos' Bradley Chubb. The fifth overall pick in 2018, Chubb is rounding back into form after missing last year with an injury. He has eight quarterback hits through four games, including five last time out.
Whether the Patriots have Cam Newton back under center or not, ball security at the quarterback position has to improve from the game against Kansas City. Chubb has a knack for knocking the egg loose, he's forced three fumbles in 24 career games. If the Patriots hope to throw the ball down the field against a banged up Denver secondary, Wynn needs to keep Chubb out of the backfield.
When Denver has the ball: Bill Belichick vs. Drew Lock/Brett Rypien
Bill Belichick's history against young quarterbacks is the stuff of legends. Only five times in 51 tries has a first or second-year quarterback come into Foxborough and beat Belichick's Patriots, with three of those five occurring before 2003.
It looks like the week off between games has given second-year quarterback Drew Lock the time he needed to overcome a shoulder injury that's kept him out for the last month. He's been a full participant in practice, and Broncos head coach Vic Fangio has indicated he'll start Lock if healthy. If there's a setback, expect the Broncos to go with backup Brett Rypien.
Either way, the formula holds for Belichick. Lock, a 2019 second-round pick, would be making his eight career start. Rypien, a 2019 UDFA who didn't see the field his rookie year, would be making his second. Expect Belichick to come out with a defensive game plan designed to confuse and cross up either young quarterback.
On offense, the best thing the Broncos have going for them right now is their pass catchers. Rookie Jerry Jeudy has been as good as advertised, and Tim Patrick has proven to be a capable number two option. The Patriots need to use their experience and intelligence on defense, making the young Denver quarterbacks beat them mentally.
Bonus: Patriots vs. COVID-19
From limited practice time to losing key players on each side of the ball to just the general uncertainty, the Patriots have had as much on their plate these last two weeks as they have at any time in recent memory.
"This is really a medical situation" Belichick told reporters last Thursday. On top of preparing for a game, the team is in the midst of dealing with a potential outbreak. There's no true way to balance properly getting ready for the Broncos while preventing a potential spread.
The Patriots incredibly came to play with a full effort last Monday in Kansas City despite having every reason not to. Can they do it again this week?