The Broncos have the 25th easiest schedule in the league going into 2018 based on strength of schedule. This is a huge turnaround from 2017 when the Broncos had the hardest schedule in the league. However, these rankings are not very precise.
The Denver Broncos 2018 Schedule Is Easy? Not So Fast
Strength Of Schedule Inaccuracies
Since the strength of schedule is measured exclusively through win-loss ratios earned during the previous year, they become outdated during ensuing off-seasons when trades, retirements, signings, and drafts can drastically alter a team’s ability to perform at the same level.
For example, the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, two teams that Denver will face in 2018, cannot be logically expected to remain at the same level. The 4-12 Houston Texans of 2017 had to limp through most of the season without their starting Quarterback Deshaun Watson. With Watson healthy, the bar will be set much higher for the squad in 2018.
Additionally, the 6-10 49ers were missing a franchise quarterback for the majority of the season last year. Without ex-Patriot Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on the field as a starter, the Niners won only one game. Conversely, with him starting, the 49ers won five games in a row to close out the season. This year, the 49ers will have Garoppolo for the entire season. Needless to say, most expect great things out of the Niners in 2018, or at least more than six wins.
Most importantly, NFL teams simply do not have many repeat seasons due to the constantly changing rosters in the NFL. Even if a team finishes within one win of their record from the previous year, it throws off the accuracy of the strength of schedule. In a 16-game season, one game can drop or raise a team several spots and can have a profound impact on the accuracy of a team’s strength of schedule.
For these reasons, a strength of schedule should not be used as more than a quick, at-a-glance surface-level indicator of how tough an upcoming season could be. That being said, if a team goes from one end of the rankings to the other like the Broncos have, it is still pretty safe to say that their schedule will be easier in 2018 than it was in 2017.
After looking at the strength of schedule, the next layer of analysis will be to look at a couple of stretches that the Broncos will have to endure throughout the season. Namely, the easiest stretch and the hardest stretch. Each stretch will last four games and will be determined by various anticipated factors that will exist both on the field and off. The hardest stretch will be looked at first.
From October 14 through November 4, the Broncos will be enduring rivalries, short weeks and rising stars as they play against the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, and Houston Texans. How the Broncos play in weeks six through nine could make or break their season.
Los Angeles Rams At Denver Broncos – Week Six
Many expect to see the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl this year and with good reason. A greatly upgraded defense, one of the premier rushing attacks in the league, and a solid passing attack makes the Rams one of the teams to beat in the NFC. Even though the Broncos will be facing the Rams in Denver, it will be their toughest game of the season. Not to mention, ex-Bronco defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and ex-Bronco Cornerback Aqib Talib will be looking to prove something in their first return to Denver since their respective exits.
Denver Broncos At Arizona Cardinals – Week Seven
The Cardinals do not immediately sound like the most intimidating team in a vacuum. However, with newly signed Quarterback Sam Bradford and first-round draft pick Josh Rosen as well as the fact that Running Back David Johnson will be fully recovered from his injury, the Cardinals’ offense could be sneaky-good in 2018.
That being said, the game-changing factor is that the Broncos will have to face the Cardinals at their stadium on a short week. That’s right, the Broncos will have to hop on a plane almost immediately after their titanic showdown with the Rams and rush to prepare for a Thursday-night game featuring an opponent that could be surprisingly solid. Getting a win is always important but one of the core goals of the game should be to simply avoid injury, as Thursday-night games are notorious for decimating rosters.
Denver Broncos At Kansas City Chiefs – Week Eight
Assuming that the Broncos survive the Thursday-night game, they have to get ready to face a divisional opponent that they have not beaten since 2015. Granted, they will be playing an essentially unproven rookie in Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II.
However, the team surrounding Mahomes is full of veteran talent on both sides of the ball. Additionally, Mahomes was able to beat Denver in his professional debut in last year’s Week 17 showdown. This will be the second of the two yearly matchups and so, depending on how the first game went, Denver will have to deal with either an angry team thirsty for revenge or they’ll have to figure out how to adjust for weaknesses that were exposed in the previous match. Either way, this could be one of the most difficult games of the year.
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos – Week Nine
Rookie sensation Deshaun Watson will be healthy, as well as several core defensive playmakers that did not survive the season in 2017. Assuming they remain healthy, this team is expected to make the playoffs and could make a great run at a Super Bowl. Luckily, the Broncos will be at home. However, they will have to overcome some mental and physical fatigue as they will not have had a bye week yet and will have just finished three of the toughest games of the year up to that point.
Is It Over?
After the battle against the Texans, the Broncos will have a perfectly-timed bye week. If the Broncos come out of this stretch with a 2-2 record and remain healthy, they should feel victorious.
While not technically part of the stretch due to the bye, it is worth mentioning that the Broncos will have to face the Chargers at their stadium and then will have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Denver. However, the Broncos will be fresher than their opponents because of the bye so they will have a clear advantage. Not to mention that the Steelers will be playing away.
A Walk In the Park?
There is no section of the schedule that screams “easy” but there is a part that screams “probably easier.” The stretch comes early in the season, from September 16 to October 7 and features matchups against the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, and New York Jets.
Denver Broncos At Oakland Raiders – Week Two
On paper, this team has a solid roster that could do some damage. However, the Raiders will be led by Jon Gruden. Gruden has not coached a game in the NFL in ten years and the rust will be showing. When the Broncos and Raiders play, it will only be Gruden’s second game in ten years and so he will likely still be playing catch-up. That is if his time has not already passed. The Broncos should be able to take advantage of this and make swiss-cheese out of the team.
Denver Broncos At Baltimore Ravens – Week Three
The Ravens have struggled in recent years, failing to make the playoffs since 2014. Aside from stirring up some quarterback controversy in signing Robert Griffin III and drafting Lamar Jackson in the first round, the team did not really make any game-changing additions on either side of the ball and is expected to remain around .500 in 2018. The Broncos simply have a better roster and it will show when the Broncos land in Baltimore.
Kansas City Chiefs At Denver Broncos – Week Four
Unproven second-year Quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be in only the fifth NFL game of his young career. That being said, Mahomes was able to beat Denver at Mile High Stadium in his first-ever start. However, the Broncos offense of 2018 will be greatly improved compared to that of last year and Mahomes will have to keep up when he lands in Denver. If Mahomes plays the same game he had in Week 17 of last year, the Broncos will win by a landslide. In the end, this will be the toughest game of the stretch for the Denver Broncos but they will have the advantage overall.
Denver Broncos at New York Jets – Week Five
The Jets went 5-11 last year, including a shutout loss against Denver. Since then, the biggest change will be at quarterback. Rookie Quarterback Sam Darnold gives this franchise immense promise. However, when the Broncos come to New York in Week Five, Darnold will be facing defensive pressure unlike any he has experienced in his life (if he is even is the starter yet). Expect to see turnovers by the Jets as Darnold adjusts to the pace and intensity of the NFL. There is a great chance that the Jets lose big in this game. Even though the Broncos should win this game in style, the Jets will not remain easy for much longer as Darnold begins to gain experience.
A Tale Of Two Halves?
The Broncos should expect to be 3-1 or 4-0 through these four weeks if they play solid games. However, after the game against the Jets, the Broncos will be facing down their hardest stretch of the season. This change in difficulty could be a shock to the Broncos if they get lulled into a sense of security after the first five weeks of the season where they are expected to be 4-1 or better. If the Broncos struggle through the toughest stretch, they could easily fall to .500 by the time that the bye rolls around. The Broncos will control their destiny as they hit the toughest stretch starting in Week Six.
The Most Important Game
Most of the important games of the season come during the hardest stretch but the overall most important game of the season comes right after the hardest stretch. It will be a game against a divisional opponent because that game could be the single tiebreaker that determines if a team wins a division and makes the playoffs or slips out of the playoffs altogether. Therefore, the most important game of the season will be against the toughest opponent in the division, the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11.
Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn has truly impressed in his short tenure, nearly pulling off one of the best playoff pushes in recent memory last year. This will be a better Chargers squad in 2018, even with the season-ending injury to Tight End Hunter Henry.
Many think that the Chargers and the Broncos are the two most favored teams to win the AFC West. Therefore, one of the two games featuring the Broncos and Chargers will be of the utmost importance for both teams.
The Week 11 matchup will set the tone for the series and should the Broncos win, they will be able to play for the sweep as they will have the best chance to win at home in Week 17.
The last time that the Broncos beat the Chargers in Week 17 and swept them for the year, they went on to win Super Bowl 50.