I've seen quite a number of fans expressing concerns regarding how well the Broncos will fare in 2012. After all, the team DID suffer through a three-game slide to end the regular season then got blown out by New England after posting their first post season victory in six seasons. There are a number of very justifiable reasons to be concerned. In 2012, Denver will face:
1)Seven teams that won 9 or more games in 2011.
2)Six teams that won 10 or more games.
3)Four teams that won 12 or more.
4)Two teams that won 13 games.
Not only that, but the 2012 schedule includes:
5)Four teams that won their divisions in 2011.
6)Both of the teams that played in the 2011 AFC Championship game.
7)The team that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl -- and which, incidentally, defeated Denver twice by a combined score of 86-33.
There are some fans who are convinced that the advent of the Manning era in Denver presages a return to playoff relevance for the Broncos. There are others who hope that Fox will repeat in Denver what he accomplished in Carolina -- a significant win-loss improvement in his first season followed by a Super Bowl appearance in his second. There are still others who are convinced that the Broncos will be football's equivalent of a train wreck in 2012.
With these varying views in mind, let's take a look at some of the facts and figures about the teams we will be facing in the 2012 season in what I choose to call Denver Broncos' 2012 Schedule: Brian's Pre-Draft/Pre-Training Camp Thoughts.
The Broncos finished the season with the offense being ranked #25, in terms of points and #23 in terms of yards. The defense was ranked #24 and #20 in terms of points and yards, respectively. Denver put 309 points on the board and gave up 390. The team ranked 26th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Overall, it was a season of ups and downs, flashes of brilliance and moments of frustration. The sweetness of Denver's first playoff win since 2005 helped most fans forgive the down moments. Now we find ourselves anxiously awaiting the draft and gearing up for whatever 2012 will bring.
Week 1 - Pittsburgh
The Steelers finished 2011 with a 12-4-0 record and were tied for 1st in the AFC North -- though they lost the tie-breaker with the Ravens -- before falling victim to a 29-23 overtime loss to Denver in the Wild Card round (yes, yes, I know I mentioned that in the introduction, but it just can't be said enough). Pittsburgh logged a 5-3 record when playing on the road in 2011. During the first quarter of the season, they went 2-2. They lost their first game of 2011 to Baltimore, falling 35-7 in Baltimore. The Steelers' offense ranked 21st in points and 12th in yards while their defense ranked 1st in both categories. They put 325 points on the board while only giving up 227. Pittsburgh ranked 28th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
The Steelers are 2-3 versus the Broncos in their last five meetings and the current streak between the two teams is a loss for Pittsburgh (that beautiful 29-23 overtime win for Denver). This will be a game in which the Broncos will have to play nearly perfect on both sides of the ball in order to win. The good news is that if Manning can gel with the rest of the offense quickly enough, the Broncos might be able to get ahead which would allow the defense to play a little more aggressively and without so much pressure to hold the Steelers in check. This could be a game which goes either way, so Denver could start 1-0 or 0-1 (and no, I'm not just trying to hedge my bets here).
Week 2 - at Atlanta
For the second week in a row the Broncos get to play a 2011 playoff team. The Falcons finished 2011 at 10-6-0 and in 2nd place in the NFC South. They lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants, 24-2 in the Wild Card round. Atlanta went 6-2 at home and 2-2 in the first quarter of the 2011 season. They won their Week 2 game at home, over Philadelphia, 35-31. The Falcons' offense was ranked 7th in points and 10th in yards. The defense was ranked 18th in points and 12th in yards. Atlanta put 402 points on the board while giving up 350. The Falcons ranked 5th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Atlanta is 1-4 versus the Broncos in their last five meetings and the current streak between the two teams is a loss for Atlanta -- a 24-20 win for Denver in Atlanta in 2008. This will be a dangerous game for the Broncos. I don't see them winning both the Pittsburgh game and the Atlanta one. I would be happy with a split so they face Houston with a 1-1 record (2-0 would be preferable, and not necessarily out of reach). If they lose to Pittsburgh, the Atlanta game becomes a vital one to win. My prediction at this point is that Denver will be 1-1 after Week 2.
Week 3 - Houston
The Texans will be the third playoff team in a row faced by the Broncos to open their 2012 campaign -- this is why I believe that the Broncos need to have -- at the worst -- split the games with Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Houston finished the 2011 season with a 10-6-0 record and won the AFC South. They went on to defeat Cincinnati 31-10 in the Wild Card round before losing 20-13 to Baltimore in the Divisional round. Houston finished with a 5-3 road record and a 3-1 record in the first quarter of the 2011 season. However, the Texans lost their Week 3 game to New Orleans, 40-33, in New Orleans. Their offense ranked 10th in points and 13th in yards while the defense ranked 4th in points and 2nd in yards. Houston racked up 381 points and surrendered 278. They were 7th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Houston and Denver have only met three times since the Texans were added to the NFL in 2002. The Texans have a 1-2 record against the Broncos and the current streak between the two is a loss for Houston -- 24-23 in Denver, in 2010. This will be hard fought game, but it should be winnable. If Denver can go into Week 4 at 2-1 and they will be sitting in a good position to defend their AFC West title. If they go in at 1-2, it will be a major struggle. At this point, I would predict Denver to be at 2-1 going into Week 4.
Week 4 - Oakland
Oakland always seems to bring a surprise or two when playing Denver. The Raiders seem to win games they were expected to lose and lose those that were "sure things." It's important to remember that Oakland finished with an 8-8-0 record and it was only the tie-breaking rules that placed them in 3rd place in the AFC West. Oakland went 5-3 on the road in 2011 -- including a 23-20 win in Denver to open the season. They went 2-2 in the first quarter of the season. The Raiders lost their Week 4 game in Oakland, 31-19, to New England. Their offense ranked 16th in points and 9th in yards; the defense ranked 29th in both categories. Oakland posted 359 points while allowing their opponents to put up 433. Oakland ranked 22nd in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
The Raiders and the Broncos have a rich and storied rivalry stretching all the way back to 1960 when they were charter members of the American Football League. Oakland holds the edge 4-1 over the Broncos in their last five meetings but Denver owns the current streak with a 38-24 defeat of the Raiders on their home field in 2011. I may just be feeling unjustifiably optimistic, but I believe that the Broncos will win this game and go into the much-hyped show-down versus the Patriots with a 3-1 record.
Week 5 - at New England
New England was the AFC's representative to Super Bowl XLVI. The Patriots posted a 13-3-0 record to win the AFC East. They defeated Denver 45-10 in the Divisonal round and Baltimore 23-20 in the AFC Championship game before losing to the New York Giants 21-17 in the Super Bowl. New England went 7-1 at home in 2011. They went 2-2 in the second quarter of the season and won their Week 5 matchup against the New York Jets 30-21. The Patriots' offense was ranked 3rd in points and 2nd in yards; the defense was ranked 15th in points and 31st in yards. They rolled up an astounding 513 points and gave up 342. New England ranked 3rd in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
The Patriots hold the edge over Denver in the last five meetings, 3-2. They also hold the current streak, having posted two consecutive wins -- 41-23 in Denver during the regular season and 45-10 in New England during the Divisional round of the 2011 playoffs. Unless Manning has an absolutely incredible game, I don't see Denver winning this one and their record will take a step backwards to 3-2.
Week 6 - at San Diego
Denver travels from coast to coast for their second consecutive road game. The Chargers finished 2011 with an 8-8-0 record and the tie-breaking rules placed them in 2nd place in the AFC West, and out of the playoffs. San Diego was 5-3 at home in 2011 but only 1-3 in the second quarter of the season. Week 6 of 2011 was San Diego's bye week. The Chargers' offense was ranked 5th in points and 6th in yards while their defense was ranked 22nd in points and 16th in yards. They put up more points than they gave up -- 406 to 377 and they ranked 24th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
San Diego holds the edge in the last five meetings with the Broncos 3-2, but Denver holds the current streak having beaten the Chargers 16-13 in overtime in Denver during their last meeting in 2011. San Diego and Denver have split the season series each of the last four seasons and so I think the coast to coast run between consecutive road games will cause the Broncos to falter and drop their record to 3-3.
Week 7 - Bye Week
This bye comes at a very good time for the Broncos: they will have just completed consecutive road games, one on each coast. Having a bye here will give them a chance to catch their collective breaths and get ready to host the always dangerous New Orleans Saints.
Week 8 - New Orleans
The offensively prolific Saints come to town in Week 8. By this point in time, Fox should have been able to get a pretty good idea on how much New Orleans was affected by the bounty scandal and the suspension of head coach Sean Payton. New Orleans finished 2011 with a 13-3-0 record and won the NFC South. They defeated the Lions 45-28 in the Wild Card round before losing 36-32 to San Francisco in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Saints went 5-3 on the road and 2-2 in the second quarter of the season. They lost their Week 8 matchup with St. Louis -- in St. Louis -- 31-21. The New Orleans offense was ranked 2nd in points and 1st in yards. The defense was ranked 13th in points and 24th in yards. They put a nearly unbelievable 547 points and gave up 339. The Saints ranked 19th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Denver holds both the edge in the last five games (3-2) and the current streak of three straight wins -- 34-32 in Denver in 2006, 34-13 in New Orleans in 2004 and 38-23 in New Orleans in 2000. I think this will be a game where we see Peyton Manning rise up and make the Broncos his team. He will not be satisfied with a 3-3-0 record and will be fresh coming off the bye. Add in two full weeks in which to study the Saints defense and Manning will pick them apart to raise Denver's record to 4-3.
Week 9 - at Cincinnati
For the second week in a row, and for the sixth time in nine games, the Broncos will be facing a 2011 playoff team. The Bengals finished 2011 with a 9-7-0 record, 3rd place in the AFC North and made it into the playoffs based on tie-breakers. Cincinnati lost to Houston 31-10 in the Wild Card round. They were 4-4 at home but only went 1-3 in the third quarter of the season. However, they began that third quarter with a 24-17 win over Tennessee in Tennessee in Week 9. The Bengals' offense ranked 18th in points and 20th in yards. Their defense ranked 9th in points and 7th in yards. Cincinnati scored 344 points against giving up 323. They ranked 17th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Denver holds the edge in the series with the Bengals, 4-1 in the last five meetings. The current streak stands at three Denver wins: 24-22 in Denver (2011), 12-7 in Cincinnati (2009) and 24-23 in Denver (2006). As an interesting side note, two of those three Denver wins came with Kyle Orton at quarterback, and the 2011 win over Cincinnati was Orton's last win in a Broncos uniform. Denver's games against Cincinnati have been close affairs in each of the last three meetings (the largest margin of victory was the five-point win in 2009). I would not expect this contest to be any different, but I would tend to have more confidence in the experience of Manning over the youth of Dalton. I think Denver squeaks by to end the first half of the season at 5-3-0.
Week 10 - at Carolina
This will be another hard game for Denver -- another back-to-back road game series. The Panthers finished 2011 with a disappointing 6-10-0 record and in 3rd place in the NFC South. They were 3-5 at home and went 2-2 in the third quarter of the season. They lost their Week 10 matchup 30-3 against Tennessee in Carolina. The Panthers' offense was ranked 5th in points and 7th in yards while their defense was ranked 27th in points and 28th in yards. Carolina scored 406 points but gave up 429. They ranked 13th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
These two teams have only met three times since the Panthers were founded in 1995. Denver holds the edge in the series 2-1 but Carolina has the current streak with a 30-10 victory in Carolina in 2008. This could easily be a trap game for Denver. With three of their next four games being against divisional opponents and a running quarterback who can throw the ball better than Denver's recent running quarterback, the Broncos could very easily get caught looking ahead. I think this is an upset game and the Broncos drop to 5-4-0.
Week 11 - San Diego
See Week 6 for a full description of the pertinent facts about San Diego.
As I mentioned above: "San Diego and Denver have split the season series each of the last four seasons," and since I predicted a loss in Week 6, I think Denver will bounce back and win in Week 11 to raise their record to 6-4-0.
Week 12 - at Kansas City
For once, the Broncos do NOT have to play in Kansas City in December. The Chiefs finished 2011 with a 7-9-0 record and that placed them behind all three division rivals by one game and thus they fell into 4th place in the AFC West. Kansas City was 3-5 at home in 2011 and went 1-3 in the third quarter of the season. The Chiefs faced off against the Steelers in Week 12 of 2011 and lost that game 13-9 in Kansas City. Their offense ranked 31st in points and 27th in yards. The Chiefs defense was stouter, ranking 12th in points and 11th in yards. The offense only put up 212 points while the defense surrendered 338. Kansas City ranked 18th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
The Chiefs hold the edge, 3-2, in the last five meetings between the two teams. They also hold the current streak at 1-0, by virtue of their 7-3 win in Denver to close out the 2011 season. While their defense will be tough again in 2011, I don't think they'll be able to keep up with Manning and company and as a result, Denver wins a close one to improve to 7-4-0.
Week 13 - Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay tied for the third worst record in the NFL last season: Indianapolis and St. Louis went 2-14-0, Minnesota went 3-12-0 and both Cleveland and Tampa Bay went 4-12-0. The Buccaneers accomplished the dubious distinction by losing ten straight games after starting the season 4-2-0. Tampa Bay went 1-7 when on the road in 2011 and lost all four games in the fourth quarter of the season. They were handily beaten 38-19 in their Week 13 matchup at home against Carolina. The Buccaneers' offense ranked 27th in points and 21st in yards. Their defense was even worse, ranking 32nd in points and 30th in yards. Tampa Bay put 287 points on the board, but allowed opponents to rack up 494. The Buccaneers ranked 32nd in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Denver holds the edge in the last five games of this series 3-2, as well as owning the current streak with two straight wins -- 16-13 in Denver (2008) and 16-13 in Tampa Bay (2004). I think Denver will make it three wins in a row in this series and improve to 8-4-0.
Week 14 - at Oakland
See Week 4 for a full description of the pertinent facts about Oakland.
I think this year will be the first time since 2006 that Denver will have swept the season series with the Raiders. It will be a close game, but Denver will prevail and go five games above .500 at 9-4-0.
Week 15 - at Baltimore
For some odd reason, the Ravens have seemed to get inside the Broncos' heads. Baltimore will host Denver coming off of a 12-4-0 season. They finished 2nd in the AFC North. The Ravens defeated the Texans 20-13 in the Divisional round of the 2011 playoffs but then fell 23-20 to New England in the AFC Championship game. Baltimore was an impressive 8-0 at home last year and went 3-1 in the fourth quarter of the season. Interestingly enough, one of their four losses came in Week 15 when the Chargers found new life and defeated Baltimore 34-14, in San Diego. The Ravens' offense was ranked 12th in points and 15th in yards while the defense was ranked 3rd in both categories. They ranked 11th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Baltimore holds the edge in the last five games, 3-2 and hold the current streak of two wins over Denver -- 31-17 in Baltimore (2010) and 30-7 in Baltimore (2009). Denver has never won in Baltimore and I don't think this year will be any different and Denver drops slightly to 9-5-0.
Week 16 - Cleveland
The Browns have got to be feeling frustrated. After finishing 10-6-0 (their best record since 1994), Cleveland lost out on winning the division to Pittsburgh (also 10-6-0) and lost the tiebreaker for the final Wild Card spot to Tennessee (10-6-0) to narrowly miss the playoffs, the Browns went 4-12-0, 5-11-0, 5-11-0 and then 4-12-0 again in 2011. This put them in 4th place in the AFC North. Cleveland lost all four games in the fourth quarter of the season (in fact they lost six straight games, and eleven of their last thirteen games, to end the 2011 campaign). The Browns' offense ranked 30th in points and 29th in yards. The defense fared better ranking 5th in points and 10th in yards. They posted 218 points while giving up 307. Cleveland ranked 13th in the Take Away/Give Away ratio.
Denver holds the edge in the last five meetings between these two teams, 5-0. In fact, Denver has won nine consecutive games against the Browns: 27-6 in Denver (2009), 34-30 in Cleveland (2008), 17-7 in Cleveland (2006), 23-20OT in Denver (2003), 44-10 in Denver (2000), 26-14 in Denver (1994), 29-14 in Cleveland (1993), 12-0 in Cleveland (1992), and 17-7 in Cleveland (1991). The Browns have to go clear back October 8, 1990 to find a win: 30-29 in Denver. Sorry Browns' fans, but this will be the tenth loss in a row as Denver improves to 10-5-0.
Week 17 - Kansas City
See Week 12 for a full description of the pertinent facts about Kansas City.
In 2002, Denver swept the season series with the Chiefs. They split the series in each of the next four seasons (2003-06). Then Denver swept the series again in 2007. This was again followed by four seasons (2008-11) of splitting the season series. This means that Denver's due to sweep the series again and they do so to finish the 2012 regular season at 11-5-0.
Now some of you may well be wondering if I've decided to regress to my La La Land of the Off Season roots. I do not believe that I have. Rather, I believe that I am approaching the 2012 season with a sense of guarded optimism. I have been encouraged by the quotes I've been reading from the Broncos' receivers that indicate that they are quickly becoming accustomed to Peyton Manning's style and quickly developing a rapport with him. I have also been encouraged by Champ Bailey's declarations that Manning -- by the very virtue of being Manning -- has challenged the defensive players to step up their game and show that they can be just as good as the offense.
Are there areas of concern? Of course there are. Do I believe that the Front Office is doing their best to address those concerns? Of course I do. Do I believe that it will all come together by September?
With a lot of hard work and a little luck . . . a very guarded yes.