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Broncos 2017 schedule not as tough as it seems

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Yes, Denver plays eight games against playoff teams from last season, but more than half of those are at home.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

By now you know the Denver Broncos have the toughest schedule in the NFL.

Anytime one mentions the 2017 slate, that caveat is included. While the Broncos may have the toughest schedule, per se, it’s way too early to make such a bold proclamation. There’s way too much we don’t know.

The process behind the “toughest schedule” is based on the 2016 season and the winning percentage of the teams Denver plays. Those teams combined for a .578 winning percentage. At first glance, you get why some say it’s the toughest. The Broncos play some really good teams, as we found out on Thursday when the schedule was released. It’s a faulty at best formula, and in reality it’s flat lazy. None of the teams on Denver’s schedule are the same and there are so many factors involved. It makes no sense, and it lacks so much context.

Case in point: Yes, the Broncos play an NFL-high eight games against 2016 playoff teams, but when you dig deeper you see half of those are against divisional opponents in the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Both Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers also play eight games against teams in last year’s playoffs. Like Denver, the Chargers have half of those games against divisional opponents, while the Chiefs have only two. Of the three teams, that tells me Kansas City has the slightly tougher schedule (thanks, John Madden).

When you combine two of the Broncos’ divisional games with the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Giants, more than half of those eight games against teams in the playoffs last season are at Mile High Stadium. The remaining three games are on the road against Kansas City, Oakland and the Miami Dolphins. When you add that context, it’s not as bad as it appears.

Therein lies the major benefit in this season’s slate of games - the toughest teams travel to Denver. Obviously, Denver splits games with Kansas City, Oakland and Los Angeles. Divisional games are always tough, even if the team isn’t any good. Look no further than the Chargers in 2016. I’m one who thinks LA will improve this season.

In other words, the AFC West is always tough and that won’t change from season to season; especially in 2017 when three teams could potentially qualify for the postseason, if all goes well. Even when Denver won five-straight divisional titles, it was never “easy.” That’s not to say those five games are now a walk in the park, but you can bet the house the Broncos would rather face the Cowboys, Giants and Patriots at home than on the road. This is still one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, and Denver still has one of the best defenses in the league.

The toughest aspect of this season’s schedule is the five games in the Eastern Time Zone. Five trips to the East Coast is never an easy task. It can impact the body and throw off your routine/schedule. Thankfully, the Broncos are best prepared to handle that. Still, five is a lot. In 2016 Denver made three trips east. How the team handles the travel will go along ways to how successful it is.

The Broncos catch an early break with the trip to the Buffalo Bills happening in Week 3 as opposed to later in the season. Buffalo is never a trip teams want to make late in the year, and they get it out of the way on Sept. 24. The rest of those games are pretty much spread out through the rest of the season. Denver travels to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9; Miami in Week 13; Indianapolis Colts in Week 15; and Washington Redskins in Week 16. Another way of looking at this is the Broncos travel to the cold places when it’s warm and the hot places when it’s cooler, save for D.C.

The slight bummer from this schedule is the Week 5 bye. Though the Broncos play a late season Thursday Night game in Indy that gives them a mini bye prior to heading to Washington. So I actually like how that aspect of the schedule plays out. Denver has had the early bye four times (Week 4-5.) The Broncos finished with a winning record post-bye in all four of those years, so here’s hoping that history repeats itself.

Some of the other items that stand out from Denver’s schedule: Half of its home games come in the first six weeks of the season. It has a three-game road trip with two, two-game road trips toward the end of the season. In the franchise’s 15 three-game road trips, it has a winning percentage of .333. The season closes out with four of six games on the road. It also has four ll a.m. MT games, seven 2:05 p.m. MT games and five primetime games.

No doubt some possible speed bumps exist, but every team has them. In the history of the NFL, not one team has had a perfect schedule. There are aspects teams like and hate, and the Broncos are no different.

Don’t let the lazy analysis that Denver has the toughest schedule in the NFL sway your excitement or optimism. It may have the toughest schedule, per se. But dig deeper and look for the context. It’s not that bad. It definitely doesn’t fit the “toughest schedule” in the NFL hyperbole we’re heard the last few months. Perhaps it’s the blue and orange tint of my contacts, but dare I say it’s actually quite favorable?

A team needs a little bit of luck in its march to win a Super Bowl. The Broncos got the first bit of good news with their schedule and how the season was forecast. Now, as safety T.J. Ward said this week, it’s all about grinding in the dungeon to get back to the White House.

Broncos 2017 Schedule

Wk Date Opponent Time (MT) TV
Wk Date Opponent Time (MT) TV
1 Sep 11 vs. Los Angeles Chargers (MNF) 8:20 PM ESPN
2 Sep 17 vs. Dallas Cowboys 2:25 PM FOX
3 Sep 24 at Buffalo Bills 11:00 AM CBS
4 Oct 1 vs. Oakland Raiders 2:25 PM CBS
5 BYE
6 Oct 15 vs. New York Giants (SNF) 6:30 PM NBC
7 Oct 22 at Los Angeles Chargers 2:25 PM CBS
8 Oct 30 at Kansas City Cheifs (MNF) 6:30 PM ESPN
9 Nov 5 at Philadelphia Eagles 11:00 AM CBS
10 Nov 12 vs. New England Patriots (SNF) 6:25 PM NBC
11 Nov 19 vs. Cincinnati Bengals 2:25 PM CBS
12 Nov 26 at Oakland Raiders 2:25 PM CBS
13 Dec 3 at Miami Dolphins 11:00 AM CBS
14 Dec 10 vs. New York Jets 2:00 PM CBS
15 Dec 14 at Indianapolis Colts (TNF) 6:25 PM NFLN
16 Dec 24 at Washington Redskins 11:00 AM CBS
17 Dec 31 vs. Kansas City Chiefs 2:25 PM CBS