By Zack Kelberman
Murderer’s row: Whose Wheaties did the Broncos pee in to garner this? Holy cow. Never mind the fact they start the year on the road on Monday Night Football, giving them a short turnaround for their home-opener in Week 2. Never mind the fact they have the second-toughest strength-of-schedule. But consecutive matchups against the Chargers, Titans, Chiefs, Colts and Browns prior to the bye? Yikes. If Denver breaks even from that hellish stretch, it would be a monumental feat.
Speaking of the bye … Week 10 byes are preferable as they’re essentially smack dab in the middle of the season. The Broncos may limp into this day, however, after beginning training camp early and having to play an additional preseason game. Also, four of five games following the bye are on the road. The NFL giveth, the NFL taketh.
Lack of exposure: Going 6-10 under Vance Joseph (after a 5-11 season in 2017) brought the Broncos from a country-wide fixture to an out-of-sight-out-of-mind middler, awarded just two primetime games (Week 1, Week 7 vs. Chiefs). Lame choices by the Shield, who badly missed the boat by not nationally-televising the Bears clash.
Early kickoffs: The Broncos, being from the mountains, traditionally don’t perform well in early-afternoon games. Well, they’re currently slated for five 11 a.m. MT kickoffs — including four after the bye, and two back-to-back groupings (Weeks 11-12, Weeks 14-15). Again, what gives?
Ends softly: If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Denver will close out its 2019 campaign with home meetings against the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders. Meaning if Vic Fangio’s squad remains competitive — let’s say they’re sitting at 7-7 entering Week 16 — a late Wild Card grab could be within reach.
Must-win Week 1? I know what you’re thinking: “Stop panicking!” But let’s think on it: Following the opener in the Black Hole, the Broncos take on the Bears and Green Bay Packers. They’re staring 0-3 right in the face, especially with a first-time head coach still finding his bearings. It’s imperative they make a statement in Oakland, vanquishing their division rivals if only for morale’s sake.
But don’t take my word for it … : “[Oakland] will be an important division game for us,” Fangio said. “They have improved their team with their offseason moves up to this point and they have a bunch of draft picks here coming up. That will be a big challenge going out there.”
Rivalry games: There are the AFC West tilts, sure. There’s Fangio facing Chicago as the enemy, of course. But there’s a fairly nondescript Week 11 contest which calls for Denver to pack its defense to Minnesota, where they’ll look to stop Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook … and Gary Kubiak, now the club’s offensive advisor. Minnesota hired Kubiak, his son Klint and former Broncos coaches Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani this offseason — after Denver undid its offensive coordinator arrangement with Gary. This will be a fun one.
Way-too-early record prediction: By virtue of better coaching alone, the Broncos will sport more than six wins. A top-end defense combined with an upgraded offense (on paper, for now) should keep them afloat through the fall, but an absolutely brutal itinerary following the bye will prove too much to overcome. It’s an incremental improvement — 8-8 — that gives Broncos Country legitimate hope for the future.