Mind games between Patriots-Broncos before big game Sunday

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Gronk pushes off. Brady whines.

If it’s AFC championship week, somebody must be complaining about the New England Patriots.

This time around, it’s the Denver Broncos, who have delivered a few hits through the media – both traditional and social – in a not-so-subtle attempt to get inside the heads of both the Patriots and, quite possibly, the officials who will call Sunday’s game.

The biggest pokes have, not surprisingly, been directed at Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, with the Broncos suggesting he likes to push off and how it’s really best to tackle him by going after his delicate knees. Gronk didn’t appreciate that and responded in R-rated fashion on Twitter.

Tom Brady took some shots, too, labeled a crybaby for complaining to refs.

“Just talk. Just talk,” Broncos tight end Vernon Davis said. “I don’t think they would say anything to target anyone on the Patriots side.”

These early week doses of trash talk have calmed down now that the real preparation has begun. Still, they’ve made for a decent story line to go beside the hundreds of different takes on Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, Part 17.

The highlights:

– Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall weighed in on Gronkowski, saying he uses his big frame to push off.

– Defensive lineman Antonio Smith didn’t hold back on Brady with his comments: “I’ve never seen any quarterback look to the referee right after he gets sacked more than Brady. Every time he gets sacked he looks at the ref like, `You see him sack me?”‘

But the comment that caused Gronk to throw a flag was mention by several Broncos of going after his knees, since he’s so hard to bring down. Gronkowski responded with a tweet that let his feelings be known in a comical, yet not exactly fit for print sort of way. He added a few emoji for good measure.

“I was just having a little fun with it, hoping to get a little laugh, which I think it did,” Gronkowski said. “It’s just all fun and games with that.”

Still, linebacker Danny Trevathan didn’t exactly find Gronkowski’s tweet endearing. He took it as more of a stab at his defense.

Trevathan insisted the banter stokes the fire.

“I’m glad they feel confident in themselves. I think people are looking for attention,” Trevathan said. “It’s not my job to give it to them until Sunday. My job is to shut them down when they come here, keep his mouth closed as much as I can.”

Broncos defensive back Bradley Roby finds all the back-and-forth highly entertaining. It’s juicy stuff.

“We’re not worried about the trash talking, just makes it more exciting,” Roby said. “Brings more attention to the game.”

As for the assertion that Brady lobbies more than most for penalties with the officials, well, the iconic QB took the high road. He said he’s “not sure” if he works the referees more than other quarterbacks around the league.

“If the refs want to throw the flag, I love when they throw flags on the defenders, absolutely,” Brady said. “It advances our team, so that’s just part of football.”

So is trying to get under a team’s skin. Davis experienced the same sort of thing when he was with San Francisco and preparing to face rival Seattle.

“Everyone is talking – you can say this, you can say that – but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words,” Davis said. “When it comes to the talking, I stay away from it.”

Hard to ignore social media barbs, though. Unless, of course, you’re offensive lineman Ryan Harris.

“I don’t even know what Twitter is. What’s Twitter?” Harris deadpanned. “Whoever is going to win this game, it’s going to be decided on the field this Sunday, not on some social media site, or some quotation that may or may not have been taken out of context.”

Online: AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Broncos double-digit favorites on Sunday night vs. winless, depleted Giants

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The Denver Broncos head into Sunday night with the largest spread they have had at home after a bye week in at least 25 years. The Broncos are 11.5-point favorites against the winless New York Giants with a 38.5-point total for the Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Denver is 6-1 straight-up and against the spread in post-bye week games dating back to 2010. There’s a similar long-running trend of Denver being 7-2 SU and ATS in home games following a bye week since 2003. However, this is the first time since 1996 that Denver has been a double-digit favorite in that scenario.

The Giants, which are 0-5 SU and 2-3 ATS, had three wide receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr., sustain season-ending injuries last week. That has left QB Eli Manning with WR Roger Lewis (15 career catches) and WR Tavarres King as his main outside targets. Slot WR Sterling Shephard (sprained ankle) could be inactive.

While team performances tend to gravitate toward the mean with time, the Giants will need to show something new – with replacement-level personnel – in order to move the ball against a Denver pass defense which allows only 6.2 yards per pass, fifth-best in the NFL.

The Broncos’ top-ranked defense, led by OLB Von Miller, is also first in run defense and has every starter healthy. While NFC teams are a combined 1-10 SU on the road against Denver since 2012, the Giants are a solid 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games against the AFC.

Denver, 3-1 SU and 2-1-1 ATS, has been quietly efficient on offense. The Broncos, with QB Trevor Siemian, are in the middle of the NFL pack in yards per pass, but they are facing a Giants secondary that is minus CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (suspension) and has also had inconsistent play from CB Eli Apple.

Denver, 7-2 ATS over its last nine home games in October, has been good at opening holes for the tandem of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who are each capable of making things happen in the open field if the tackling gets sloppy. New York also won’t have DT Olivier Vernon drawing double teams up front and keeping blockers off MLB Damon Harrison.

Unless the Broncos stop themselves, they should be able to grind out a workmanlike win.

The total has gone over in three of the Giants’ last four games against the Broncos, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The total has gone over in six of the Broncos’ last seven games as a favorite of 11.0 points or more.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Watch Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks live on NBC

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The Seattle Seahawks host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football as both teams look to get back to .500.

Russell Wilson will be the focal point of the Seahawks offense after throwing for a career-high 373 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort vs. the Titans in Week 3. Wilson’s ability to avoid the rush and use his legs will be on full display as Seattle’s offensive line continues to struggle.

On the defensive side, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” will look to get back on track at home in a raucous environment against Colts QB Jacoby Brissett who is filling in for an injured Andrew Luck.

If the Colts have any chance to pull off the upset on the road, Brissett will have to use his legs and connect on some deep throws to T.Y. Hilton.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Colts vs. Seahawks

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app