I meant to get this post out this past weekend, but the tragic events of the past week derailed me until now.
Fourteen of the Broncos sixteen opponents on the schedule are pre-determined every year using the rotating schedule system. Next season those divisions are the NFC North and AFC South. The other 2 are based on the team's finish. By ending the season in third place in the AFC West, the Broncos earned matchups with the third place team from the AFC North and AFC East, and neither will be easy.
Though the actual schedule won't be release until March we do know who we'll face at home and on the road. Here's how it breaks down --
HOME SCHEDULE -- Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego, Minnesota, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Pittsburgh(3rd in AFC North)
AWAY SCHEDULE -- Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo(3rd in AFC East)
I have linked to other SBNATION blogs covering these teams, if there is one, and I recommend keeping tabs on what these teams are doing in the off-season, in preparation of meeting them in '07. Let's take a look at how each team fared in '06.
Division Opponents --
Kansas City -- The Chiefs received the ultimate holiday gift from us, with the loss to San Francisco handing them the #6 seed. Congratulations to the Chiefs for getting in, and for getting throttled by the Colts in the First Round. Herm Edwards has already said that Trent Green will be the man, again, which probably mean Damon Huard will look for greener pastures elsewhere. Larry Johnson is a stud, but the O-line isn't getting any younger and figures to lose another anchor when Will Shields calls it a career. Games between the two teams are always a battle, but we always beat them in Denver, and this will be the year we end the Arrowhead jinx.
Oakland -- This team is a mess, and will have a new coach to boot. Add the fact that they'll probably draft a quarterback with the number one pick and things are likely to get worse before they get any better. Denver has dominated this series since Shanahan joined the Broncos and nothing the Raiders can do will change that in 2007. I look for the Broncos to sweep this series as well.
San Diego -- The Chargers are a great team, I have to admit it. After struggling against the Broncos in his career, L.T. lit Denver up for 7 touchdowns in two games. The Broncos are going to have to get more physical on the defensive line or L.T. could have another huge season against us. That said, I think we'll get the home game, while the Chargers will hold serve in San Diego. I look for a split.
The Rest Of the Home Schedule --
Minnesota -- The Vikings will come into '07 with huge questions of their own at quarterback. Brad Johnson was named the starter because he could "manage the game". All he "managed" to do was turn the ball over all the time and kill the Vikings with his play. He's done. Tarvaris Jackson will get the first look, but will struggle because the Vikings just don't have that many weapons on offense. I like this matchup.
Green Bay -- Like the Rolling Stones, Brett Favre keeps having farewell tours, over and over, and if he returns it will come through Denver. The Packers actually played some decent football in the 2nd half of the season and I fully expect him to come back, his teary-eyed interview last Sunday not withstanding. Ahman Green is a free-agent, but I would think he would return if Favre does. The Pack has some weapons on offense, but need to continue to upgrade the defense if they want to be anything better than an 8-8 team.
Jacksonville -- Like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you are going to get form the Jags. A team that prides itself on physical defense, the Jags have moments when they get physically beat up and down the field. Denver did it to them a couple years a go, and several teams were able to do it this season. Another team with quarterback questions, though I think Jack Del Rio realized that David Garrard is nothing but a decent backup. Maurice Jones-Drew sure would have looked good in the Blue and Orange, but as it is the Broncos D will need to keep him bottled up. At home this seems to be another favorable opponent for the Broncos.
Tennessee -- Did anyone make a bigger leap in terms of his play than Vince Young? The Offensive Rookie of the Year ended the season with an 8-5 record as a starter, winning 8 of his last 10. The Titans always play hard for Jeff Fisher who has to be considered one of the best coaches in the game. The Broncos handled them pretty easily in the pre-season, but the team that comes to Denver this year will be much improved. When the two teams play will go a long way towards my confidence about this game because the Titans are only going to get better as the years goes along.
Pittsburgh -- Our reward for finishing third is a date with the Steelers, the third place finisher from the AFC North. The coaching change will have an effect on the Steelers, no doubt about it, but this team prides itself on consistency and who ever takes over will keep alot of what Cowher has in place. I am going to assume Ben Roethlisberger keeps his face away from all moving objects and has a full off-season of preparation. The defense still has a lot of talent and this game should be a fun one.
The Rest of the Road Schedule --
Houston -- Old friend Gary Kubiak had the Texans playing some good football late in the season, as proven by their first ever win against the Colts. When the two teams played in the 3rd week of the pre-season, a game that is as close to a regular season as you can get in the pre-season, the Broncos struggled to get a win. The two coaches and teams run nearly the same offense, and can prepare the defenses accordingly. This is going to be a tough business trip to Texas for Denver, with the Texans poised to battle for a playoff spot in '07.
Indianapolis -- Great, another meeting with our old friend Peyton Manning and Co. To be honest, we actually won our last regular season meeting with the Colts. To be a realist, however, tells me this one is going to be a tough one to get into the win column. Another game that will depend on when the game is played. A Sunday afternoon will be ok, but a Monday Night prime-time affair and we could be in some trouble....
Chicago -- The Bears are the best the NFC has to offer, record wise anyways. You know Chicago is going to play some hard-nosed defense, bu they can struggle against aggressive defenses, and Rex Grossman has trouble preparing for games. I am going to try and get to this one so I am looking forward to it. Watching Shanahan go head-to-head with Lovie Smith should be a lot of fun.
Detroit -- Could a third straight Thanksgiving Day game be on the horizon? Another game I am going to try and get to, with it's close proximity to me the Lions have been the worst team in football over the past 5 or six years. They are expected to take a quarterback which means the Broncos might be facing another rookie signal caller. That said, it was the Lions that were triumphant during the pre-season and Denver has never played especially well in Detroit.
Buffalo -- The other opponent determined by where the Broncos finished is the Bills, the third place finisher in the AFC East. J.P. Losman has shown flashes of being the guy the Bills drafted in the first round a few years ago, but the Bills have still failed to get over the hump in a tough division. The third game on my planned road-trip schedule, I would appreciate the NFL-Schedule makers planning this game on a nice September afternoon as opposed to a December Sunday Night. Please.
Home Opponents '06 Road Record -- 26-38
Away Opponents '06 Home Record -- 40-24
One thing to keep in mind....For the first time in who knows how long the Broncos were a better team on the road(5-3) than at home(4-4). It was that surprising lack of success at home that ultimately cost the Broncos a playoff spot.