Path to the Super Bowl - what the 2014 schedule means for the Broncos

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos start off the 2014 regular season with three play-off teams, including the Super Bowl champs; an early bye; a tough road schedule at the end and a middle stretch that includes the Patriots in Foxborough (again!) But, hey, the road to the Super Bowl isn't an easy one.

Two hours before the NFL announced team schedules yesterday, Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan told the press "I'll play anybody. That's just my mindset. Whoever is on [our schedule], we have to play our best game."

Well that best game has to start immediately as the Broncos host the Indianapolis Colts Week 1 in a primetime game Sept. 7 on Sunday Night Football.

And it doesn't get any easier as the defending AFC champs immediately face-off with two more playoff teams, including Super Bowl champs Seattle Seahawks at their place. Then it's an early bye in Week 4 and a long away-game stretch at the end of the season.

"We've got to win those games at home. We've got to start fast, got to get those games at home and hopefully we hit our stride when we go on the road," Elway said on the NFL Network last night, noting that the bye week is earlier than the team would like. "You're dealt the hand you're dealt, and the schedule is what the schedule is."

#JohnElway on @Broncos schedule: "We've got to start fast, got to get those games at home and ...hit our stride when we go on the road."

- Laurie Volkmann (@docllv) April 24, 2014

Which means it's time for some MHR writers - Jacob Dearlove, Mike Gomez, Christopher Hart, Tim Lynch, Kyle Montgomery and Brian Shrout - to weigh in on the schedule and break down its significance.

And then in 135 days, we can determine who got it right!

How could playing the Indianapolis Colts the first game of the season impact the entire 16-game run?

Jacob: In one sense, it sucks to draw such a strong team to start the season because it doesn't give you time to ease into your schedule. At the same time, it's nice to have such a difficult game from the get-go to set the tone for the season.

Last season's cake-walk of a mediocre team got the ball rolling, but the Broncos didn't see a challenge until Week 5 in Dallas. By that time in 2014, Denver will have already played three contenders and had its bye week already.

A tough start to the schedule means the team must be ready to go on Week 1, and it sets a tone of urgency within the locker room.

Mike: None. Lose that game, and it won't affect whether the Broncos can make the playoffs or a Super Bowl run.

Christopher: The Indianapolis Colts are one of the best teams in the AFC and the Broncos need to perform well to set the tone for the season.  An early victory at home over a conference rival will give them confidence moving forward.

It will certainly be interesting to see how our newly revamped defense does against Andrew Luck and Co. It is a great Sunday Night opener.

Tim: Any threat to the AFC Title must be squashed in the regular season. This is a must-win game for the Broncos as it sets the tone for their pursuit of homefield advantage.

Brian: I don't think starting against Indy will have much of an impact on the overall schedule unless there is a catastrophic injury in the game.

Which is a tougher 3-game stretch: Weeks 1-3 against the Colts, Chiefs, Seahawks or Weeks 7-9 against49ersChargersPatriots?

Jacob: Colts, Chiefs, and Seahawks. Starting the season against three of the best teams in the league is no small task, but I think that it's one that this team is up for.

The stretch later in the season is very tough, but the Colts and Seahawks are two teams the Broncos need to prove they can beat, and they'll have to do so (in the case of the Seahawks) in one of the toughest places to play in the league.

The three teams Denver starts off against will be three of the toughest defenses in the league, so the offensive outburst seen at the start of 2013 simply can't be repeated.

These are three games that will be an absolute grind on both sides of the ball and the team will show within the first three weeks of the season whether they are a true Super Bowl contender or not. If the Broncos don't take at least two of those first three games, it will be a disappointment.

There I went and judged how tough 2014 would be based strictly on data from 2013. How foolish of me.

Mike: I believe weeks 1-3 will be a tough stretch because the Broncos will have a lot of moving parts that are still building chemistry and coming back from injury.

Christopher: The first three games are essential.  A division rival, the Super Bowl Champions and a great AFC team.  It is harder to game plan early on in the season; teams are ambiguous and at times working things out offensively and defensively -- mistakes will be made with new personnel additions and scheme adjustments.

If they don't fair well early on, it will be very difficult to overcome.  The early BYE could be a lifesaver in order for Denver to prepare for the long trek afterward.

Tim: Both are vital to the success of this season for the Broncos. I want to see at least a 4-2 record, with all four wins against AFC and division opponents.

I could care less what the outcome is against the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers, even with the strong desire for revenge over the Super Bowl debacle. I'd rather that revenge game take place in another Super Bowl, not the regular season.

Kyle: I didn't even notice that Weeks 7-9 compare to Weeks 1-3. Those are two tough stretches!

I'll say the latter stretch is tougher, even though it contradicts what I said in the actual schedule post. I'm basing that on two things - how these teams played down the stretch in 2013, and how the Broncos fared against them in 2013.

The Broncos went 2-2 against the first group, but 3-2 against the second; the 49ers and Patriots advanced to their Conference Championships, while only one team (the Seahawks) advanced at least that far. So the second group just looks a little more challenging.

I am grasping at straws here though. These are two near-equally tough stretches in my mind.

(There I went and judged how tough 2014 would be based strictly on data from 2013. How foolish of me.)

Brian: Toughest stretch - I'm going with option C - Weeks 9-11.

The Broncos not only have three straight road games (@NE, @Oak, @STL), but they have to fly to the East Coast to face a nemesis, then fly to the West Coast to face a division rival, then fly to the Midwest to face a Rams team that some pundits are projecting as a sleeper team that could easily be overlooked.

Which game are you most looking forward to?

Jacob: The Seahawks and Niners games. As some of you know, I live with fans of either team, and I hope the Broncos can pull out a couple wins so I can fly my Broncos Country flag around the house and gain some redemption for last season's Super Bowl loss.

Mike: I'm looking forward to the rematch with Seattle.  There's no way in hell 43-8 is the norm.  Sucks that it happened in the SB, but it is definitely an outlier.

Christopher: Rematch against the Seahawks.  I hope we absolutely crush them.  It is the marquee game of the NFL season with a lot of meaning to both franchises.

Tim: New England Patriots. I think the tide has turned in the Broncos favor and nothing will please me more than to see Tom Brady cry and Bill Billichek complain about dirty players like Wes Welker.

Kyle: I am most looking forward to the Seahawks game. Give me Seattle revenge as soon as possible. I'm glad I don't have to wait until November or December for this game.

Brian: The KC games so I can smack talk my son-in-law again.

What's going to be the best - and/or most important - game of the season?

Jacob: There are obviously a number of tough games on the schedule, but I think the most important one will be the Colts game. As I said above, the Broncos need to set the tone with this first tough game and establish themselves as a tough football team from game one. The first game is essential to get the ball rolling on a season that many fans are hoping can be the one that finally brings a championship to Denver.

Mike: Most important game of the season might be against the Chargers on Thursday Night Football.  I view them as the main challengers in our division.

Christopher: Every game is essential.  The schedule features a lot of great teams and several on the rise clubs who can compete for a playoff spot.  This could be the most scrutinized year in team history if we struggle.

Tim: See answer to No. 4.

Brian: Best game - Week 3 against Seattle to see if Denver's offseason strategy puts the Broncos in the same ballpark as the Seahawks. Most important - whatever game secures the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Kyle: The Patriots. We're tired of seeing the Patriots in Foxboro, so in order to make sure they come to our house in the playoffs, we have to beat them Week 9.

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