Patriots vs. Broncos -- Week 5
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. (turf, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Spread: Patriots by 6.5
Forecast: Rain likely; projected kickoff temperature: upper-50s.
Records: Patriots (Overall: 2-2, AFC East: 1-0); Broncos (Overall: 2-2, AFC West: 1-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Dec. 18, 2011: Patriots 41, Broncos 23; Jan. 14, 2012: Patriots 45, Broncos 10. Series record: Broncos hold a 27-18 edge (including playoffs)
What matters: Brady-Manning XVIII. Everything else takes a backseat to the 13th meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Though the quarterbacks are familiar foes, there's little to draw from to determine how this one could play out. The Patriots tore through the Denver defense last year, but new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has changed the way the unit operates and Brady could find himself under siege from an aggressive pass rush. As far as Manning is concerned, his past successes and failures against New England are pointless to look at since the defensive personnel is almost entirely different from two years ago.
Who matters: The last thing you want is to be dealing with injuries in the secondary when facing a quarterback of Manning's caliber, but it's beginning to look like a hip injury is going to keep S Steve Gregory sidelined. That would push rookie Tavon Wilson, who has given up eight receptions on 15 targets, into a starting role. Manning will be sure to expose any weaknesses that exist in his game
Key matchups: The Patriots avoided throwing at DB Champ Bailey during two meetings last year, targeting him one time. The early guess is that he will be erasing Brandon Lloyd from this game. ... Pats DE Chandler Jones will need to bring his best moves to beat Broncos LT Ryan Clady and create pressure on Manning. Clady struggled a little bit last year, but he's yet to allow a sack and has only given up one quarterback hit this season.
Injuries of note: WR Julian Edelman (hand) and Gregory (hip) will likely miss the game. TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle) returned to practice Thursday, but will also likely miss the game. TE Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Brady (right shoulder) should be good to go after being limited this week. G Logan Mankins (hip/calf) also appears to be on the right track.
Inside stuff: The loss of Hernandez (out since Week 2) hasn't benefited the passing game, but backup TE Daniel Fells has excelled as a blocker and played a key role in helping the Patriots run for more than 200 yards last week. He produced several key blocks during last week's game against Buffalo.
Connections: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels served as Denver's head coach from 2009 through Week 13 of the 2010 season. ... Fells was with Denver last season. ... Lloyd played in Denver from 2009-10. ... Denver C Dan Koppen spent nine seasons in New England before joining the Broncos this year. ... Broncos CB Tony Carter spent 2010 in New England. ... Broncos FB Chris Gronkowski and Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski are brothers.
Stat you should know: CB Devin McCourty has allowed 12 receptions on 29 targets for 159 yards and a 42.2 passer rating against. Last year, he allowed completions on 62.2 percent of the passes thrown his direction for a 104.7 passer rating against.
Looking ahead: The Patriots go on the road against Seattle before hosting the Jets.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Broncos 27
Nick Underhill covers the Patriots for MassLive.com. Follow him on Twitter @CBSPats or @Nick_Underhill.