Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week 15 game between the Patriots and Broncos:
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Broncos defense
It's becoming an intriguing matchup to watch each week, to see how an opponent tries to contain Gronk, because, as we've seen, no one has really stopped him.
Gronkowski has emerged as the league's top tight end, breaking the NFL record last week for most touchdown catches by a tight end in a season with 15. He has scored in each of the team's last six games. Since the Patriots' bye in Week Seven, Gronkowski is averaging six catches for 98.1 yards a game.
His size, speed and athleticism provide matchup nightmares for teams. Linebackers are not fast enough, defensive backs are not big enough.
"You just try to get your hands on him as soon as you can," Broncos MLB Joe Mays said, according to The Denver Post. "(You try to) jam him on the line, slow him down, slow his momentum down, just make Tom Brady look somewhere else."
That's where Mays and WLB D.J. Williams factor into covering Gronkowski. They will do his best to get him off his route using their physicality. If one of them has to run with Gronk on a certain play, it would probably be Williams.
In the secondary, rookie FS Quinton Carter could see some snaps covering Gronkowski. He has impressed this season and at 6-1, 200 pounds, wouldn't be a terrible size matchup with Gronkowski.
For Brady, it's important to see early on what the Broncos decide to do with Gronkowski. Will they double-team him? We have seen teams do that in the endzone, but not so much in between the 20s. If so, that takes away Brady's second read after Wes Welker. Aaron Hernandez would likely be next. One way the Broncos could make things difficult is if they can successfully blanket Gronkowski, Brady hasn't found a reliable No. 3 receiver to go to, and that makes Denver's job of slowing the Patriots' attack easier.
But as we have seen week after week, keeping Gronkowski down is much easier said than done.