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How tough is the Broncos’ schedule?

Let’s just say Drew Lock will be battle tested.

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Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset at the close of the 2015 season. Since then, the Broncos have no made it back into the playoffs. Five years P.M means the pressure is on John Elway and his club to find a way to scratch and claw their way into the expanded postseason.

It won’t be easy. Life in the AFC West means two games against the best quarterback in football. For that reason, it may be more predictive to look at the Broncos’ schedule outside of Kansas City to get the best feel for their odds at the dance.

Let’s get started.

Week 1 - Tennessee Titans

Reasons for optimism:

  • The Titans will want to play bully ball with two backs (21 personnel), two tight ends (12 personnel), or even 6 offensive lineman. That means more Mike Purcell and less Isaac Yiadom or Da’Vante Bausby on the field for the defense, which could be a good thing early.
  • Derrick Henry is scary with the ball in his hands, but he’s a limited receiver.
  • The Dean Peas, Jurrell Casey, and Logan Ryan departures could create cracks in the defense.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • If the Broncos’ offense starts out slow, it will play right into the Titans’ plans to ride their ground game.
  • A.J. Brown could be a matchup problem.
  • Keep an eye on the status of both Todd Davis and Bradley Chubb. Playing without one or the other, or having them compromised could really hurt the defense.
NFL: JAN 19 AFC Championship - Titans at Chiefs
No Davis could make Henry a problem.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 2 - Pittsburgh Steelers

Reasons for optimism:

  • Ben Roethlisberger is a wildcard. No QB has done what the Steelers are hoping he can do in 2020. If he looks like 2019 Ben, the Broncos defense could have a field day.
  • Pittsburgh’s defense had a ton of turnover luck last year, which makes them a likely regression candidate.
  • The defensive line is a big part of the pass rush, which could bode well for a Broncos’ OL with strengths along the interior.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Ben Roethlisberger is a wildcard. No QB has done what the Steelers are hoping he can do in 2020. If he looks like 2018 Ben, the Broncos offense could find themselves in a shootout.
  • If Ben’s back to Ben, the offense will lean into a lot of Empty looks, which will test the secondary. The receiving corps is one of the scarier ones in the league.
  • Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick are likely to improve on their first seasons in black and yellow. Even if the turnover luck is closer to average, this defense is going to be very good.
Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets
JuJu Smith-Schuster is quietly one of the toughest receivers to stop in the league.
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Week 3 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Reasons for optimism:

  • Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are older than dirt. The media is going to hype them up, but both come with serious questions in 2020.
  • Shaquil Barrett probably isn’t leading the league in sacks again. Much like their star pass rusher, it looks likely the defense will come back to Earth after becoming an elite unit last year. They’re not especially deep at any level and come with questions in the secondary. Keep in mind that when the Bucs couldn’t get pressure last year, they were pretty average.
  • The offensive line is “okay.” Brady means it’ll be hard to get sacks, but sometimes pressure is enough.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are perhaps the best receiving duo in football. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are one of the better pairs of tight ends. Even a 300-year old Brady should find success with this group.
  • Todd Bowles will test the Broncos’ protection calls and the mental aptitude of the pass protectors. There will be blitzes from all over. In 2019 the Bucs sent either 5 or 6 rushers on almost 40% of their defensive snaps.
  • Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, LaVonte David, and Devin White could shutdown the inside running game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars
Devin White’s on the verge of stardom.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Week 4 - New York Jets

Reasons for optimism:

  • The offensive line is rough. Really rough. Von Miller should have a field day.
  • At the time I’m writing this, the Jets WR corps is really banged up. The Jamal Adams trade leaves questions in the secondary. C.J. Mosely’s absence leaves a hole in the middle of the defense.
  • There’s been enough dysfunction that I can’t help but wonder if Adam Gase has wolves at his door by week four.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • New York had one of the better defenses in football a year ago. While the missing pieces puts a damper on their ceiling, it’d hurt to overlook them.
  • As bad as the line looks right now, Mekhi Becton is a monstrous human being and the decision to throw a ton of resources at the group could pay dividends.
  • Sam Darnold might be good someday? Maybe?
New York Jets Training Camp
If the Jets’ line comes together, they could be a pain.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Week 5 - New England Patriots

Reasons for optimism:

  • Cam Newton’s thrown 24 touchdowns in the 16 games he’s played across the last two seasons. There’s no guarantee he’s upright five weeks into the season and I’m not high at all on Jarrett Stidham.
  • Even if Newton’s healthy, the Pats supporting cast is woof-tastic. N’Keal Harry needs to make massive strides to prove he wasn’t a first round bust. Most of the tight ends are rookies.
  • Between free agency and opt outs, the vast majority of the defensive front is gone from last year’s defense. Even with Belichick pulling the strings, the talent vacuum will sting.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • A healthy Cam Newton could make the Josh McDaniels offense more flexible than in years.
  • Julian Edelman could be a huge problem for the secondary.
  • Bill Belichick is pulling the strings and still has the most dangerous secondary in football.
NFL Pro Bowl
Expect Stephon Gilmore to lock up Courtland Sutton.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Week 6 - Miami Dolphins

Reasons for optimism:

  • Have you seen their receiving corps?
  • Have you seen their offensive line?
  • With how bad they’ll probably be, decent shot Tua Tagovailoa is playing by week 6. Fangio against a rookie quarterback should help the Broncos’ chances.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • With Byron Jones, Xavien Howard, and Eric Rowe, the Phish should be able to present problems for the passing attack.
  • Shaq Lawson is a scary threat against Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson.
  • Tua was pretty darn good in college.
Miami Dolphins Training Camp
Denver should be favored against the Dolphins.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Week 7 - Kansas City Chiefs

I’ve mentioned this on Cover 2 Broncos a number of times, barring significant health issues this Chiefs team looks like they’re a step ahead of every other team in the league. Patrick Mahomes is still carrying an affordable cap number, which allowed Andy Reid to keep all the major pieces. This offense could push the numbers they put up in 2018, while the defense at the tail end of last year was a top 10 unit in the NFL.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
It ain’t fair, it’s just life.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Week 8 - Bye Week!

Reasons for optimism:

  • I have no read numbers on this, but have always believed byes in the middle of the schedule are best. Teams have been playing long enough that everyone could use a break and benefit from time off.
  • If the Broncos can get to the break hovering around .500 the schedule eases up over the back half.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • We’ll have a whole weekend without Broncos’ football. With how tough the early schedule looks, it could make for some sensational takes by local media.
Denver Broncos Training Camp
Giving Von and the Broncos’ defense an extra week should help them against the Falcons.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Week 9 - Atlanta Falcons

Reasons for optimism:

  • Dan Quinn was almost fired a year ago and has two Super Bowl contenders in his division. They open with teams like the Seahawks, Packers, Vikings, and Cowboys. Decent chance they’re in turmoil by week 9.
  • Depth issues abound. The Falcons have had a tight cap situation for a couple years, which means they have a pretty top heavy roster. They’re set to count on big performances from rookie contributors, which is a risky bet with the impact Covid had on the preseason. Add it all up, and a couple of injuries could really derail what now look like strengths of the team.
  • The defensive improvement down the stretch last year was probably a mirage. Outside of Grady Jarrett the pass defense lacks real difference makers.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • While Keanu Neal missed most of the last two years, he was a stud back in 2018. If he can rediscover that form it could have a dramatic impact.
  • Dante Fowler looks like a matchup issue for the Broncos’ tackles.
  • So long as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are playing, their passing game is a problem for opposing defenses. Jones is perhaps the best receiver in football and owned A.J. Bouye a year ago.
Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Standing 6’3 with 4.3 speed, Jones is one of the freakiest receivers in the NFL.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Week 10 - Las Vegas Raiders

Reasons for optimism:

  • Losing Tyrell Williams is a big blow for the Gruden offense. Williams was extremely efficient on his touches a year ago, and his absence means a larger role for two rookies and a second year slot receiver.
  • The way Derek Carr loses his mind under pressure will always play into Von Miller’s hands.
  • The rebuilt defense has a ton of new pieces who had an abbreviated offseason to get ready. Add in a murderer’s row of an early schedule and there could be real turmoil by week 10.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Mike Mayock added a bunch of pieces to compliment Maxx Crosby this offseason. Carl Nassib and Maliek Collins should both improve the pass rush. Maurice Hurst was problematic a year ago.
  • Darren Waller is a huge matchup issue for the Broncos’ defense. Henry Ruggs will also present issues. Bryan Edwards is a bully-ball fiend who should have had a chance to find his footing by week 10.
  • We laugh at Derek Carr for his worst moments, but the Raiders had one of the best passing offenses in the league a year ago.
Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos
Jon Gruden has done a masterful job driving the Raiders offense.
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Week 11 - Los Angeles Chargers

Reasons for optimism:

  • The offensive line has a bunch of questions. Even if Anthony Lynn finds answers, Jurrell Casey and the edge rushers are going to be a huge mismatch.
  • Mike Williams’ injury really shone a light on the Chargers’ depth at receiver. After Keenan Allen it’s an underwhelming group. K.J. Hill will need to make an immediate impact this year.
  • By week 11, Tyrod Taylor has probably given way to Justin Herbert. Even if you’re higher on the Duck than I was last March, Fangio and the Broncos pass rush are licking their chops.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Even minus Derwin James, the Chargers’ defense looks scary talented.
  • Austin Ekeler is a mismatch for every Broncos’ linebacker.
  • If the defensive line is healthy, Joey Bosa is going to be a huge problem for Drew Lock.
Oakland Raiders v Los Angeles Chargers
The NFL’s highest paid defensive player is an elite force on the edge.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Week 12 - New Orleans Saints

Reasons for optimism:

  • Drew Brees is a dinosaur. We don’t know if Taysom Hill is really a quarterback. Jameis Winston goes blind to the second level four or five times a game.
  • The Broncos’ probably get up for Emmanuel Sanders’ homecoming.
  • Maybe they trade Alvin Kamara?

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Quite possibly the best, most complete team in the NFC.
  • Michael Thomas is going to be a huge mismatch issue, while Jared Cook and Kamara can both expose athletic limitations along the Broncos’ second level.
  • Far too often Cameron Jordan’s too easy to forget about. He’s going to eat Bolles’ lunch.
New Orleans Saints v Tennessee Titans
Jordan has a vast repertoire of moves and will really test Bolles’ technique.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Week 13 - Kansas City Chiefs

If the Broncos win three games between the bye and their rematch with Patrick Mahomes, I’m happy.

Week 14 - Carolina Panthers

Reasons for optimism:

  • Before Teddy Bridgewater signed, most were pegging the Panthers as one of the worst rosters in football. While he won games with the Saints last year, the way he tends to play leans right into the strengths of the Fangio defense.
  • Carolina had one of the worst defenses in football last year. Derrick Brown should help improve their league worst rush defense, but replacing James Bradberry with Eli Apple looks likely to open up them up to more issues against the pass.
  • A player like Luke Kuechly is impossible to replace. Losing their defensive cornerstone will also put more pressure on players like Shaq Thompson and Jeremy Chinn, which could lead to communication issues.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • In D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson, Joe Brady has a really promising trio of receivers. If the Broncos are having issues with their third corner, this game could really shine a light on it.
  • Brian Burns is the kind of speed rusher both Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson have had huge issues with in the past.
  • If Brady can get Christian McCaffrey matched up with Todd Davis or Alexander Johnson in space it’s going to be bad for the Broncos.
Carolina Panthers Training Camp
McCaffrey’s short area mobility and explosiveness will give Fangio headaches.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Week 15 - Buffalo Bills

Reasons for optimism:

  • Pat Shurmur knows how to roast Josh Norman.
  • Losing Shaq Lawson hurts the Bills’ pass rush and could give Munchak some room to protect his tackles.
  • Quarterbacks as inaccurate as Josh Allen has been ‘til now rarely see some massive jump in year 3.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Even account for Norman, the Bills have one of the best defenses in the league.
  • Stefon Diggs poses huge issues for the Broncos’ secondary.
  • Buffalo’s ground game leans into gap blocking and misdirection. Josh Allen’s legs are a big part of this, and it helps to create space for the runners because of hesitation by second and third level defenders.
Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans
Josh Allen’s legs are the engine that drives the Bills’ offense.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Week 16 - Los Angeles Chargers

Additional reasons for optimism:

  • As Jeff Essary said on Cover 2 Broncos this week, unless LA is pushing for the playoffs Herbert will be in the lineup by week 16.
  • Seriously, have you looked at the Chargers’ depth chart at tackle?

Additional reasons for pessimism:

  • Anthony Lynn has one of the better schemed rushing attacks in the league. By week 16, he’ll have found a way to maximize Justin Herbert’s legs.
Los Angeles Chargers Training Camp
Be prepared for a little duck walk this year.
Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Week 17 - Las Vegas Raiders

Additional reasons for optimism:

  • Their schedule is just about as brutal as Denver’s. What are the odds Marcus Mariota is starting at quarterback for the finale?

Additional reasons for pessimism:

  • The Raiders offensive line was one of the best last year and should remain very good in 2020. If the Broncos are playing without either Todd Davis or Alexander Johnson this late in the season, Josh Jacobs could be a huge problem.
Jacksonville Jaguars v Oakland Raiders
Jacobs is a workhorse back who mixes very good contact balance with underrated athleticism.
Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

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Leonard Fournette doesn’t figure to be on the free market long. He might not be leaving Florida either. Mike Garafolo reports several teams, including the Buccaneers, are making a push to sign Fournette, who was released by the Jaguars on Monday.

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