Loyal MHR reader mdierk started the conversation in this Diary, I wanted to continue it here!
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 South and AFC East. The other 2 are based on the team's finish. Despit the Broncos finishing with a losing record, the AFC West was horrible and the Broncos still finished in 2nd place. Because of that "lofty" placement, the Broncos earned matchups with the second place team from the AFC North and AFC South, and neither will be easy.
The actual schedule won't be released 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, Buffalo, Miami, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Jacksonville(2nd in AFC South)
AWAY SCHEDULE -- Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego, New England, NY Jets, Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland(2nd in AFC North)
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 '08. Let's take a look at how each team fared in '07.
Division Opponents --
Kansas City(4-12) -- Early last summer I said the Chiefs would be awful. The offensive line was a shell of it's former self, and uncertainty at the quarterback position. All that, then Larry Johnson goes down. Talk about a recipe for disaster. The Chiefs have alot of work to do this off-season, and it started with Herm Edwards firing most of his offensive coaching staff. The Chiefs have alot of holes, and while a solid Top-10 draft pick should help, the team is getting old at other skill positions(Tony Gonzalez) and on defense(Patrick Surtain and Ty Law). The Broncos swept the Chiefs this year, and even though the Chiefs should get better, the Broncos will as well.
Oakland (4-12) -- The Raiders gave the Broncos everything they could handle in 2007, with each team winning on their home field. For awhile it appeared as though the Raiders were showing progress under their Pre-Teen head Coach, but late season blow-out losses to the Packers and Jags, where it appeared the defense just quit, proved the Raiders are in fact, the Raiders. Still, the Broncos were only able to gain a split, and looked bad in Oakland. Mike Shanahan has dominated the Raiders during his tenure in Denver, and for the Broncos to be successful they need to dominate the Raiders in 2008 as well.
San Diego (11-5) -- The Broncos have now lost 5 straight to the Chargers, and the last 4 haven't really been close. I did say Norv Turner would cost the Chargers 3 games, and they did go from 14-2 in '06 to 11-5 in '07. It was still easily good enough to win the West and bust up the Broncos twice. I'll know the Broncos are back when they beat the Chargers and not a minute before. The Rivers/Cutler situation will do nothing but make this rivalry more intense for the next 5 years, and if you put a gun to my head I would have to say the Chargers are the Broncos biggest rival right now.
The Rest Of the Home Schedule --
Buffalo (7-9) -- Did any team play harder, or do more with less than the Buffalo Bills? Right in the thick of the playoff race until the final weeks of the season, the Bills were decimated by injuries, starting Week 1 against the Broncos. Despite that they continued to play hard for Dick Jauron, and had a real chance against several teams most of us would consider to be better than they. Buffalo will still need to hash-out the quarterback position, and will now be looking for a new personnel guy with Marv Levy announcing he will not be back. Let's just say I am glad this game is a home game. Buffalo is never a fin place to play, especially in the winter.
Miami (1-15) -- The Dolphins were an embarrassment in 2007. Needing overtime to salvage a 1-15 record, the 'Phins started the complete rebuilding process by bringing in a Tuna to rebuild the franchise. While I am not a huge Bill Parcells fan there is no doubting his results and he should have the Fish competitive in short order. That won;t be in 2008, however and this is a home game the Broncos NEED to win. It's hard to put any game in the W column this early, but this is a close as it gets.
New Orleans (7-9) -- If the Broncos don't have their defensive issues resolved it could be a long day when Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Co. come to town. After getting all the way to the NFC Championship, the Saints digressed in 2007. Expect the Saints to overhaul the defense this off-season in attempts to add a figment of defense to compare to a playoff-caliber offense. A tough game, indeed, though when the game is played could mean as much as where it is played.
Tampa Bay (9-7) -- Having wrapped up their division a couple of weeks before the end of the regular season, the Bucs used Weeks 16 and 17 to get healthy. As a result, they didn't play well and will ride a two-game losing streak into the playoffs. The Bucs are going to be a tough out in '08, though you have to winder just how many years guys like Derrick Brooks, Jeff Garcia and Joey Galloway have left. Another home game I think favors the Broncos, though this early one never really does know.
Jacksonville (11-5)-- A return visit from the Jags is our reward for "earning" a 2nd place finish in the West. You could easily look at the Jags game as the one that turned Broncos season around for the worse. The Broncos were 2-0, playing at home, and the Jags came in a physically put a beat-down on the Broncos. Want to know what the Broncos need this off-season? Look at the tape of the Jags game. It won't be any easier next year and the Jags will be a test of exactly where the Broncos are at, especially if the game comes early in the season.
The Rest of the Road Schedule --
New England (16-0) -- Just typing the 16-0 next to the Patriots is crazy. The Pats have enjoyed one of the best regular seasons in NFL History, though nothing short of a Super Bowl will truly make it a success. One bright spot about this game is the Broncos have enjoyed success against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, going 5-1 against the all-world Coach/QB combo, including handing the pair their first playoff loss in 2005. My one fear? The League will screw the Broncos and have the trip to New England be the Thursday Night affair to open the season, should the Pats win the Super Bowl that is.
NY Jets (4-12) -- Like the Saints, the Jets were also a playoff team in 2006 before digressing in 2007. Playing in the same division as the Pats surely didn't help, and the Jets are also transitioning to Kellen Clemens at quarterback. I would love for the Broncos to win this game, but heading to the Meadowlands is never easy, and the place has been a house of horrors for the Broncos. Another game where the outcome could be determined by when the game is played.
Atlanta (4-12) -- The Falcons are a mess. They still don't have a coach, or a GM, or a quarterback, or many talented players. That said, the Broncos have a tendency of playing down to the level of their opponents. A loss, however, even on the road, would be an upset. Atlanta is not a strong home-field advantage and the Broncos should be a better football team.
Carolina (7-9) -- Another disappointing season for the Panthers, one that might still cost John Fox his job. The Panthers inability to win at home, they went 0-8 at point that past two seasons, has me feeling pretty good about this trip as well. The Panthers have big-time question marks surrounding their quarterback and the defense hasn't nearly been as impressive as it was during their Super Bowl years. Like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you are going to get form Carolina.
Cleveland (10-6) -- While the Browns ended the season in disappointing fashion, 2007 has to be considered a success. 10 wins, a 7-1 record at home, and an offense that appears on the verge of becoming simply explosive. The Broncos last visited Cleveland in 2006, earning a 17-7 win, then lost to the Browns in the '07 Pre-Season. Since I'll be at the game, I am hoping for a September visit, though when they were here in October it was just as cold and dreary.
Home Opponents '06 Road Record -- 23-41
Away Opponents '06 Home Record -- 34-30
Of the teams traveling to Denver in '08, only the Jags(5-3) had a road record over .500. On paper, and that is the key point, the schedule is favorable for the Broncos. The NFC South was just as bad as the AFC West, and the Broncos should even feel some confidence playing the Patriots.
There you have it. What are your thoughts about the opponents in 2008? Whose coming to Cleveland to tailgate with me???