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How tough is the Broncos’ 2021 schedule?

Breaking down the Broncos’ 2021 opponents.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Denver Broncos
Can the Broncos get off to a hot start?
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Long before the official schedule release, we knew who the Broncos would play in 2021. On top of their annual home/road split with the rest of the AFC West, the Broncos will play against the AFC North and NFC East this coming season. Thanks to last year’s fourth place finish and the addition of a 17th game, Denver will also host the Jets and Lions while playing an away game against the Jaguars.

So the Broncos opponents weren’t a surprise. The schedule release does add in a few noteworthy wrinkles, however. The Broncos open with back to back road games against the Giants and Jags before a week three tilt against the Jets, which should ensure Vic Fangio does not continue his September winless streak. What’s more interesting to me is how the Broncos only play one game against an AFC West opponent before midseason, which creates a situation where the NFL could easily flex Denver into primetime if they’re relevant and/or have Aaron Rodgers on the roster.

Week 1 - at New York Giants

Reasons for optimism:

  • Only 64.7% of Daniel Jones’ 2020 passes were considered on target by Sports Info Solutions. He didn’t throw a touchdown in seven games and finished below Drew Lock in DYAR and DVOA, which is to say he was painfully inefficient last year. He has 29 fumbles in 27 career games,
  • The Giants offensive line is a question: they finished 21st in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yard metric and 27th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Andrew Thomas and Nate Solder also combined for 78 blown pass blocks by Sports Info Solutions charting.
  • Jason Garrett is still coordinating the Giants’ offense.
  • The edge rush is a question: Ryan Anderson is a former Washington role player who missed time last year, Oshane Ximines was a role player who showed some promise before his season ended after four games because of a shoulder injury. Azeez Ojulari is a 20-year old rookie who needs to develop his pass rush repertoire.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Dave Gettleman’s surrounded Jones with a bevy of talented pass catchers that could create a ton of matchup issues for the Broncos’ pass defense. They have the personnel to go big or small, and could be really unpredictable from down to down.
  • Saquon Barkley lost 14 games to an ACL tear early last year and should be back to form.
  • Matt Peart was really good as a rookie and brings the kind of length, technique, and savvy to cause issues for Von Miller and Malik Reed.
  • Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams will make it hard to run the ball and both can rush the passer.
Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
The Broncos line will have their work cut out for them against Leonard Williams.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Week 2 - at Jacksonville Jaguars

Reasons for optimism:

  • Jacksonville’s offensive line is shaky overall and the tackle situation should provide real mismatch potential in Denver’s favor. Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor 72 blown pass blocks and 11 penalties a season ago, per Sports Info Solutions’ charting.
  • The Jags’ tight ends are basically tertiary options and shouldn’t be a big issue in coverage.
  • There’s questions about all three of the Jags’ main edge rushers. Josh Allen generated pressure on 9.6% of his snaps last year, K’Lavon Chaisson generated 8.3% as a rookie, but notched one sack and struggled against the run. Jihad Ward should help, but he’s a former role player from the Ravens which means he’s used to a scheme creating ideal matchups and free rushes.
  • Jacksonville’s safety play will bear monitoring leading up to the game because it looks like a matter of time before Andre Cisco finds his way to the field.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Trevor Lawrence should be a shot in the arm for the whole offense.
  • Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark, and Laviska Shenault Jr. are a threatening trio of receivers with size, athleticism, and physicality to create a ton of issues both down the field and underneath.
  • Travis Etienne has game breaking speed and explosiveness.
  • Shaquill Griffin and C.J. Henderson are a promising conerback duo who should be able to match up with Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
2021 NFL Draft
This ain’t last year’s Jaguars.
Photo by Logan Bowles/NFL via Getty Images

Week 3 - New York Jets

Reasons for optimism:

  • If Zach Wilson struggles adjusting to the NFL there’s no viable alternative on the roster.
  • George Fant vs. Von Miller is a huge mismatch in the Broncos’ favor.
  • I liked Bryce Hall as a prospect, but Robert Saleh has his work cut out for him with this cornerback room. If the Broncos can find adequate QB play, Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler should be mismatches all game.
  • The New York pass rush is very dependent on Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Everything we know suggests the Jets are moving towards the 49ers’ schemes on both sides of the ball. Outside zone with a heavy dose of play action on offense suits Wilson’s strengths and should protect the pass protection. A Seattle style defense with a bunch of quarters mixed in should play to the strengths of the secondary and hide some of the corners’ individual limitations.
  • Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Connor McGovern should quickly become one of the more dominant left sides in football.
  • Both Corey Davis and Denzel Mims stand 6’3” and could cause matchup issues with the Broncos’ corners.
  • Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis are an underrated pair of safeties with the kind of range to present a number of issues.
2021 NFL Draft
There’s no real backup plan: New York will go as far as rookie Zach Wilson takes them this year.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Week 4 - Baltimore Ravens

Reasons for optimism:

  • Three years into his NFL career Jackson’s run a simplistic passing attack and hasn’t consistently threatened outside the hash marks with his arm.
  • The Ravens’ receiving corps. consists of Sammy Watkins and a slew of unproven players with pedigree. A healthy Broncos’ secondary should be able to contain them.
  • Baltimore’s pass rush is a committee approach that’s dependent on scheme, the individual matchups aren’t too scary if the Broncos fix their RT spot.
  • Patrick Queen’s rookie season is overrated by box score scouts, he struggled mightily and could have issues if the Broncos play bully ball.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • The Ravens’ offense will lean on read concepts to try and slow down Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
  • Fangio’s defense had a heck of a time against Josh Allen’s legs the last two years, so it’s hard to imagine Jackson won’t break a long run or two.
  • Wink Martindale’s the most blitz happy defensive coordinator in football, which will put a ton of pressure on the Broncos’ QB and protection to have their ducks in a row both pre and post-snap.
  • Hollywood Brown, Miles Boykin, and Rashod Bateman were all picks I liked and if two of the three hit the ground running this year, it could elevate the whole offense to a near unstoppable level.
Divisional Round - Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills
Fangio has to figure out a way to slow down Lamar Jackson.
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Week 5 - at Pittsburgh Steelers

Reasons for optimism:

Reasons for pessimism:

  • The Steelers’ receiving corps. is among the best in football and present matchup issues regardless of Roethlisberger.
  • Najee Harris is the kind of outlet receiver who could be a real headache in the open field.
  • This remains a very talented defense with playmakers at all three levels.
  • Losing Bud Dupree, Devin Bush, and Vince Williams really began to add up down the stretch last season. Two of the three return, and Alex Highsmith should be a suitable replacement across from T.J. Watt.
Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers
With the Broncos’ right tackle situation a complete unknown, T.J. Watt looms large.
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Week 6 - Las Vegas Raiders

Reasons for optimism:

  • When he isn’t playing quick game, Derrek Carr consistently shows issues against pressure.
  • Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock gutted the offensive line this offseason. Kolton Miller could cause issues for Von Miller, but I expect Fangio to find ways to get hits on Carr.
  • Vegas’ receiving corps. lost Nelson Agholor to free agency, which makes them dependent on a year two breakout from Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards.
  • The Raiders keep paying for edge rushers only for them to disappoint. I expect Yannick Ngakoue to do the same. He’s been a good, not great pass rusher who was protected from rushing downs in Baltimore.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Gruden is a good play caller who isn’t afraid to lean heavily on the quick passing game, a strength of Carr’s.
  • Darren Waller is a huge mismatch weapon that’ll find ways to get his.
  • Alex Leatherwood is a blocker at the point of attack, which could help Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake in short yardage.
  • Gus Bradley’s scheme should better suit the strengths of the Raiders’ secondary.
Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders
Gruden’s an enigmatic team builder and underrated play caller.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Week 7 - at Cleveland Browns

Reasons for optimism

  • Baker Mayfield took off after Odell Beckham Jr. got hurt last year, so it remains to be seen how they integrate him back into the lineup. OBJ has the reputation for being one of the best receivers in football, but he hasn’t scored more than six touchdowns since 2016.
  • There’s no doubt last year’s offense was a big improvement in Kevin Stefanski’s first season at the helm, but Mayfield’s dependency on play action and the running game makes them a high variance passing game. He had seven games where he completed less than 60% of his passes, three games where he took four sacks, and three games where he threw less than 150 yards.
  • The Browns’ defense finished 2020 as the 25th best by Football Outsiders’ DVOA stat and look set to count on Troy Hill, Grant Delpit, and Jadeveon Clowney in substantial roles. Both Delpit and Clowney are returning from Injured Reserve, while Hill turns 30 in August and left an extremely favorable situation with the Rams.
  • Cleveland played the waiting game for Von Miller in free agency, and it left them with Clowney and Takkarist McMckinley, and Malik Jackson to take attention off of Myles Garrett.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Credit to Andrew Berry for addressing every glaring need, because this is a pretty complete team on both sides of the ball.
  • Cleveland’s offensive line is among the best in football.
  • The Browns love won’t hesitate to play bully ball and have the personnel to do so. They’ll mix in two tight end sets (12 personnel), three tight end sets (13 personnel), and a fullback (21 personnel). With Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, David Njoku, and former Bronco Andy Janovich, they can force a defense to respect the run and set up play action shots.
  • Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is a two-headed monster of a backfield that can do damage on the ground or through the air.
Divisional Round - Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs
Myles Garrett is among the scariest pass rushers in football.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Week 8 - Washington Football Team

Reasons for optimism:

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick is as capable of throwing a team into as he is out of any game. He’s made a career out of extremely high variance QB play, and turns 39 in November. He’s reached an age where decline can set in at any time.
  • Charles Leno is going to have trouble with Bradley Chubb.
  • Landon Collins is at his best around the line of scrimmage, but there’s uncertainty at the other safety spot which could influence his role.
  • If Jack Del Rio’s defense was an ice cream flavor, it’d be vanilla.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • There’s a few mismatch weapons to deal with on offense: Terry McLaurin is an underrated athlete and savvy route runner, while Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson will cause issues on the second level.
  • Washington’s front four is among the scariest in football, with Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat all presenting issues for the Broncos’ line.
  • William Jackson, Kendall Fuller, and Jimmy Moreland are one of the more talented trio of cornerbacks.
  • If the Broncos are starting Drew Lock, he’s shown real issues with zone-heavy defenses.
Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles
Can Garett Bolles slow down Chase Young?
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Week 9 - at Dallas Cowboys

Reasons for optimism:

  • The Cowboys’ defense was a complete dumpster fire under Mike Nolan, which is why Dan Quinn’s coordinating it now. After watching Aaron Rodgers shred the Falcons’ secondary over the weekend I’m not completely sure he’s a real solution.
  • Jerry Jones had to be bummed Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II went back to back before 10 in the NFL Draft, because Dallas is counting on Jourdan Lewis, Kelvin Joseph, and Trevon Diggs at corner.
  • Even if Micah Parsons helps to improve the pass rush, there’s a ton of questions about the front four. DeMarcus Lawrence and who?
  • Tyron Smith made it through two games last year, is 30, and hasn’t played a full schedule since 2015.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • There may not be a scarier wide receiver trio in football than Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb.
  • If Dak Prescott returns to form this is a near lock for a top 10 offense.
  • The Cowboys’ starting offensive line looks good enough to mostly neutralize the Broncos’ pass rush.
  • Ty Nsekhe should provide quality depth at tackle.
Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks
If Dak Prescott is back to form, Dallas won’t be easy.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Week 10 - Philadelphia Eagles

Reasons for optimism:

  • Have you seen this QB room?
  • Philly’s starting tackles played a combined seven games in 2020. Andre Dillard hasn’t logged a snap since 2019 and he struggled in four starts his rookie season.
  • Zach Ertz caught slightly more than half his targets a year ago and remains on the roster because Howie Roseman didn’t find a trade package he liked.
  • The defense has pieces such as Fletcher Cox and Darius Slay, but there is rather large questions about the secondary, linebacker corps, and edge rush.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • If the Broncos lose to a Joe Flacco I may have to retire from blogging.
  • Slay is good at baiting a quarterback into throwing in his direction, which could lead to a stupid turnover.
  • Cox has the kind of power and burst to be a real headache for Denver’s interior offensive line.
  • DaVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and John Hightower all present as vertical threats that need to be accounted for, which could stretch the Broncos’ zone coverages and create openings underneath.
New York Jets v New England Patriots
Joe Flacco’s return.
Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Week 11 - Bye Week

Week 12 - Los Angeles Chargers

Reasons for optimism:

  • One key to Justin Herbert’s 2020 was his play under pressure, historically something that’s extremely difficult to replicate from year to year.
  • The Chargers’ interior offensive line remains a rather large question.
  • Outside of Joey Bosa, LA’s edge rushers are mostly role players.
  • Box score stats hide the fact Kenneth Murray was pretty shaky in coverage last season.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Herbert was phenomenal as a rookie and should improve with a full offseason.
  • Mike Williams is a size/speed threat who can “big boy” defenders.
  • Keenan Allen is one of the best route runners in the league.
  • Jared Cook is a pesky threat in short yardage and around the redzone.
Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers
If Justin Herbert makes a leap in year 2, the Broncos are in for a slog.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Week 13 - at Kansas City Chiefs

Reasons for optimism:

  • Believe it or not, the Chiefs were among the 10 healthiest teams in football in 2020. Regression is probable, and a top heavy roster’s depth could be tested.
  • KC ranked among as the second worst run defense by DVOA and had a heck of a time against the Broncos’ gap scheme concepts. The linebacker corps. looks like will heavily rely on Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, and Anthony Hitchens. Gay had trouble getting on the field as a rookie, Bolton and Hitchens both come with athletic limitations.
  • The Chiefs’ starting center looks like it will be either Austin Blythe or rookie Creed Humphrey, which could leave the pass protection susceptible to games.
  • After Hill and Kelce, the Chiefs receiving corps. is more promise than production.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Hope I’m wrong about this, but I was sky high on Willie Gay when he came out. If the light goes on in year two he’s going to be a sideline to sideline force with the range to impact games in coverage.
  • Chris Jones is typically a problem for the Broncos pass protection.
  • Kansas City has an underrated secondary. Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill are one of the better safety tandems in the league. L’Jarius Sneed was also one of the few rookie corners to have an impact in year one. If Charvarious Ward gives them solid play at the other corner, it won’t be easy to move the ball through the air.
  • If Mecole Hardman breaks out in year three the way he and Hill could stress spacing is going to be problematic.
AFC Championship - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs
Can the Broncos find a way to slow down Travis Kelce?
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Week 14 - Detroit Lions

Reasons for optimism:

  • This roster is among the worst in football and they’re clearly playing for 2022. Denver should have a talent advantage at almost every spot on both sides of the ball.
  • Anthony Lynn’s running scheme has had a bunch of issues with the Fangio defense since 2019.
  • The Lions’ defense is undergoing a rather massive transformation after years with Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. Romeo Okwura and Trey Flowers will need to be accounted for, but the Broncos’ line should keep the QB clean.
  • Jared Goff is throwing to Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, and Kalif Raymond.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • This offensive line could be pretty nasty with the personnel to mix a heavy dose of gap blocking into the equation. The Broncos undersized defenders have had issues with that in the past, especially Malik Reed.
  • Penei Sewell may have a learning curve after missing 2020, but he’s got the tools to give Von Miller and Reed issues.
  • Jeff Okudah should be better than he was as a rookie.
  • T.J. Hockenson is a reliable pass catcher who can also block at the point of attack.
Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers
If Jeff Okudah can improve upon his rookie year, he could be a real issue for the Broncos’ receivers.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Week 15 - Cincinnati Bengals

Reasons for optimism:

  • There’s rather large questions about the offensive line, secondary, linebacker corps. and pass rush.
  • Joe Burrow took a sack on 7.3% of his dropbacks in 2020 before he suffered a season ending knee injury. His backup Brandon Allen took a sack on 4.7% of his. Maybe recognizing Burrow’s role in his protection issues played a role in the Bengals passing on Penei Sewell?
  • Ja’Marr Chase didn’t play in 2020 and may have a rough adjustment to the NFL.
  • Drew Sample isn’t much of a receiving threat.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Chase and Burrow made history the last time they played together.
  • Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd aren’t necessarily household names, but their skillsets compliment Chase and could present a number of issues to the Broncos’ pass defense.
  • The front seven has promise and could become quite threatening as players like Akeem Davis-Gaither, Logan Wilson, and Joseph Ossai find their footing.
  • Jessie Bates is criminally underrated and will be all too happy to capitalize on any errant passes in the middle of the field.
Cincinnati Bengals v Washington Football Team
Joe Burrow’s accuracy could cause issues for Fangio’s pass defense.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Week 16 - at Las Vegas Raiders

Reasons for optimism:

Reasons for pessimism:

  • The Raiders embarrassed Drew Lock in Vegas with the 28th ranked defense by DVOA a season ago.
  • If Ruggs and/or Edwards make a leap, Carr has a plethora of weapons.
  • Maxx Crosby has been a consistent issue for whoever the Broncos’ trot out at right tackle over the last couple seasons.
  • Trevon Moehrig gives Vegas the kind of do-it-all centerfielder who could really tie their pass defense together.
Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
The Raiders need Ruggs and Edwards to improve.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Week 17 - at Los Angeles Chargers

Reasons for optimism:

  • LA’s secondary is counting on Brandon Staley and health luck making a huge difference.
  • The Chargers’ rush defense was quite rough a season ago, Linvall Joseph is inching closer to the end, and Jerry Tillery hasn’t lived up to his draft pedigree.
  • It looks like a rookie will protect Herbert’s blindside.
  • After Williams and Allen, the receiving corps. is pretty thin.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • Last season suggests Brandon Staley is among the better defensive coaches in the league.
  • Joey Bosa is an elite edge defender who will test Garett Bolles.
  • If Derwin James is healthy, he could have a transformative impact on the back seven.
  • I was sky high on Asante Samuel Jr.’s fit in the Fangio defense and Staley runs a similar system. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turns into a playmaker early in his career.
Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos
Joey Bosa is the kind of presence that has to be accounted for on every play.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Week 18 - Kansas City Chiefs

Reasons for optimism:

  • Mike Remmers or Lucas Niang look set to start at right tackle. Both should have Von Miller licking his lips.
  • Kyle Long will battle Laurent Tardif-Duvernay at right guard and while both are talented players, neither logged a snap in 2020. Long was retired, Tardif-Duvernay opted out.
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire totaled 1,100 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, but a high ankle sprain and hip injury dogged him down the stretch. The depth behind him is shaky.
  • Frank Clark has caused a bunch of issues for the Broncos’ right tackles since joining the Chiefs in a trade. He’s also overrated. He’s generated pressure on less than 10% of his rushes the last two seasons, per Sports Info Solutions’ charting. If the Broncos can find something resembling competence at right tackle, he could be a non-factor.

Reasons for pessimism:

  • You’ve heard of Patrick Mahomes, right?
  • Tyreek Hill is a nightmare matchup for just about every defensive back in the NFL.
  • If the Chiefs line can gel the defense could be in for a long night. Pressure was a huge reason Fangio was able to frustrate Andy Reid’s offense in the second matchup last year.
  • Steve Spagnuolo knows how to fluster Drew Lock, which could become a huge issue if he’s starting.
Super Bowl LV
Hardly news, but Mahomes makes the Chiefs the team to beat in the AFC.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Your Broncos’ News

Here’s how the NFL has found starting offensive tackles from 2016-2020 - Mile High Report

How have the Broncos done it and how does it compare to the rest of the league?

What makes you most optimistic about next season? - Mile High Report

If you say “fifth easiest schedule,” wrong answer.

Denver Broncos among league worst in aggressiveness and adjusted interceptions - Mile High Report

Taking a look at the excellent work of Football Outsiders to see how the Broncos stack up against the league last season

Packers win total remains off the board, Broncos are back on - ProFootballTalk

If there’s a realistic chance he’ll play for the Broncos, however, now would be the time to lock in a wager for the Broncos to go at least 9-8. If Rodgers someone ends up on the team, the Broncos surely will.

Teddy Bridgewater finds fault with how Joe Brady, Panthers practiced

“As an organization there’s things you can do better,” Bridgewater said. “I’ll just say this, for Joe Brady’s growth, that organization, they’ll have to practice different things in different ways. One thing we didn’t do much of when I was there, we didn’t practice two minutes, really. We didn’t practice red zone. You walk through the red zone stuff and then Saturday, you come out and practice red zone, but you’d only get like 15 live reps. Guys’ reps would be limited.”

NFL News

Cardinals give LB Jordan Hicks permission to seek trade

The Cardinals landing LB Zaven Collins in the 2021 NFL Draft will have a domino effect on defense. With Collins slated to play the MIKE linebacker in the middle of the Cards D, former starter Jordan Hicks has been permitted to seek a new home via trade

Lions first-round pick Penei Sewell to miss rookie minicamp after testing positive for COVID-19

Detroit Lions first-round pick Penei Sewell won’t be at rookie minicamp this weekend. The OT announced Wednesday that he recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Behind Justin Fields’ selection with Bears GM Ryan Pace – The Athletic

“The sweet spot to realistically get one of these quarterbacks, we thought, was going to be between eight and 12,” Pace said.

Chargers are bringing Saints’ scheme to LA: What will it look like? And what does it mean for Justin Herbert? – The Athletic

“It’s kind of outside zone, inside zone, a lot of play action stuff that the 49ers do,” Herbert said. “And then you get a lot of the Saints stuff that they bring in. It’s kind of been a big combination of those two so far.”

“What I think is paramount on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game is that you use personnel groupings as a weapon because you want to put people in conflict every single snap,” Staley said in early April. “And part of the way you do that is with a variety of groupings that they have to prepare for.”