If Peyton Manning is going to get a chance to redeem himself in the Super Bowl next February, he has his work cut out for him.
Everyone knew before the NFL schedule came down Wednesday night that the Denver Broncos’ opponents would be formidable. The Broncos have the league’s second-toughest schedule, thanks in large part to the strong competition within the AFC West, which sent three of its four teams to the playoffs last year. If Denver is to repeat the success it had in the 2013 regular season, there’s one thing it must do immediately.
“I think when you look at it, we have to start fast,” Broncos General Manager John Elway told reporters. “We have three playoff teams the first three weeks with the Colts, Chiefs and the Seahawks. We have to get off to a quick start.”
They’ll get a little help there, with five of their first seven games in Denver. But that means six of their last nine are on the road. And, to boot, their bye week comes terribly early, in Week 4. That’s their earliest bye since 2006. They’ll face playoff teams nine times and five of their game will be in prime-time, the maximum allowed.
The game everyone will be watching comes Nov. 2, when Denver has to go on the road to Foxboro to play Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. This will be the fourth regular season in which the Broncos have played the Patriots on the road and Gillette Stadium is starting to feel like home. The Broncos have played six regular-season games and one playoff game there since 2002.
Last year’s Broncos were all about Manning’s assault on the NFL record books. This year, the team is prepared to be more physical, perhaps learning something in that Super Bowl loss to Seattle. Necessity is the mother of re-invention, ESPN’s Jeff Legwold says.
With a flashback to the 2013 preseason, when the Broncos were pushed around a bit by the San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks, this year’s regular-season slate will have that same physical flavor. And a team that has largely built its back-to-back 13-3 finishes on the precision and timing of its next-level passing attack, will have to be ready to roll up its sleeves and wrestle in the heavyweight division. The team has tried to add some grittiness to the defense this offseason in cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, they have made their intentions clear to try to run the ball more efficiently. To have a shot to get back to the Super Bowl, they’ll need all of the above as the league’s divisional rotation has them facing the NFC West. The Broncos will have to muscle their way through those games to win a fourth consecutive division title of their own.