BRONCOS

Five storylines for the 2023 season that came out of the Broncos’ schedule release

May 11, 2023, 11:39 PM | Updated: May 12, 2023, 12:53 am

You can make your plans now. And if you want to make predictions, go right ahead. Because now you can glimpse over the horizon, pull out the binoculars and see the Broncos’ 64th season approaching.

And with the schedule out, a few storylines quickly emerged.

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1. THEY’RE POSITIONED FOR A FAST START

Drawing Las Vegas and Washington as a home couplet to open the season should allow the Broncos to build some confidence. Yes, the Raiders have a 6-game winning streak against the Broncos and cannot be overlooked. But the Broncos were a goal-line Melvin Gordon fumble or a late-game collapse away from stopping that streak last November. If either one of those doesn’t happen, Denver likely wins comfortably.

Now, that being said, a 2-0 beginning doesn’t guarantee a thing. The Broncos started 2-0 in 2017 and 2018 and opened 3-0 in 2021. They went 3-11, 4-10 and 4-10, respectively, after those quick starts.

But Sean Payton’s teams have always turned 2-0 starts into playoff seasons. The Saints were a perfect 4-for-4 in that regard during his 16 years on the job in New Orleans. On the flip side, the Saints finished exactly 7-9 in four of the five seasons under Payton when they started 0-2.

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2. THEY DIDN’T FALL FAR FROM THE SPOTLIGHT

Ten teams have more prime-time games than the Broncos — including all three of their AFC West rivals. Kansas City and the Chargers share the league lead with Dallas: 6 apiece. Las Vegas falls in a 7-way tie with the Giants, Jets, Packers, Vikings, Eagles and 49ers with five prime-time games.

So, that puts the Broncos squarely in a middle tier as one of seven teams to appear in prime time on four occasions. Now, the only team with a longer playoff absence is the Jets, and they have a quintet of prime-time windows. But they also have Aaron Rodgers. In some ways, they are this year’s Broncos.

The Broncos have an opportunity for a fifth national-TV game; their Week 15 clash with Detroit could be moved to Saturday, Dec. 16. Beethoven’s birthday. And if both teams have a chance to snap their playoff droughts with a symphonic season, don’t be surprised to see the league move that clash into the limelight.

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3. THERE’S A HUMP IN THE MIDDLE TO GET OVER

On paper, the Broncos’ six-game stretch from Week 5 through Week 11 appears to be the most difficult of the campaign. Four games are at home, so that helps. The bye falls during that span, as well, giving the Broncos a chance to catch their breath after playing the Chiefs twice in three weeks … and just before they head to Buffalo for Monday Night Football.

But in that six-game run, he Broncos face just one team that had a losing record last year — and that is the Jets, now brandishing Aaron Rodgers at quarterback — and former Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive playcaller. Four of the six games are against teams that won at least a dozen games last year – including the two against Kansas City.

If Denver wins at least three games in this stretch, they ought to be well-positioned for a playoff run. Emerge with fewer wins, and questions will likely remain as to whether the Broncos can hang with the elites.

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4. GET SOMETHING OUT OF THE THREE-GAME ROAD SWING

Historically, a run of three consecutive road games has caused Denver problems. The Broncos went 0-3 in two of their last three such stretches — in 2017 and 2010 — and they haven’t extracted a winning record from a three-game run on the road since 1967, going 1-2 or 0-3 in their last 10 such swings.

On the surface, Weeks 13-15 could change that. Denver plays at Houston, Los Angeles and Detroit. Houston is clearly in building mode. The Broncos took the Chargers to overtime in their last game at SoFi Stadium in October 2022, but Denver is also 0-4 all-time at that venue, including last season’s Christmas Day Massacre against the Rams.

And the Lions? They’re now an “it” team — after four years of having two letters in front of “it.” Some emerging clubs flourish and live up to the hype. Some are … well, the 2022 Broncos. The less said, the better.

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5. WANNA BE A PLAYOFF TEAM? BANK EIGHT WINS BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE

Denver closes with a three-game stretch against the Patriots, Chargers and Raiders — with the first two of those games at home.

Despite the Broncos’ recent issues, they’ve owned the Chargers at home, with four consecutive wins in the series at Empower Field at Mile High. But if Los Angeles’ offense improves with new coordinator Kellen Moore calling the plays, that New Year’s Eve tussle could become more difficult. And given where the Broncos stood in recent years, there isn’t such a thing as a win you can write in Sharpie on this schedule.

But getting two out of three from that closing stretch? That’s eminently doable. And if the Broncos can head into those games with an 8-6 record, one likes their chances of finishing with at least 10 wins — and a near-certain playoff spot.

Denver’s regular-season finale is its first on the road since 2013. The Broncos have a chance to make it mean something.

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Five storylines for the 2023 season that came out of the Broncos’ schedule release