Based on the records from last season, the Broncos had the most difficult schedule in the NFL this season.
It’s gotten harder.
The 16 teams the Broncos play in 2017 were 147-1-7-2 in ’16. (The overall record included the three other AFC West Division rivals twice, and both the Raiders and the Chiefs finished with 12 victories.)
Currently, the combined record of all the opponents is 48-47.
That doesn’t sound so onerous.
However, consider these problems for the Broncos:
1.) They already have played half their home games. They were supposed to be 5-0 or, at the least, 4-1 one week after the bye. Instead, they are 3-2 with a loss to the lowly Giants last Sunday night.
2.) Seven of the last 11 are on the road, and four of those games are against teams with winning records. Two of the other three are the Chargers and the Raiders, and winning in Indy never is demanding. The Colts have won seven in a row and all but one game in their domed stadiums over the Broncos.
3.) The Broncos are playing three straight games on the road, including the first in Los Angles on Sunday. The Chargers won their last two after opening with two defeats because of missed field goals, including the first game at Denver. Then the Broncos play a Monday night game at Kansas City. The Chiefs are coming off the Thursday night heartbreaker as they were edged by the Raiders with zeroes on the clock – even when the last play started. In one of the most quirky endings in NFL history. The Raiders "scored" three times, but two were called back. And the Chiefs were charged twice with penalties that kept the game alive. The third road game is at Philadelphia, and the emerging Eagles have lost only once this season. The Eagles and the Chiefs, still, are considered the top two teams in the league.
4.) The fourth in that series of games is at home on Nov. 12, but it’s against the Patriots, and that certainly won’t be a bargain.
5.) In November-December the Broncos twice play back-to-back games on the road – at Oakland on one coast and the next week at Miami on the other coast. The Raiders will be determined for revenge from the earlier meeting, and the Dolphins are a winning team now with former Broncos quarterback Adam Gase, who believed he should have been the Broncos head coach in 2015, and the ever-popular Jay Cutler, who was a bust in Denver with a 37-37 record. The other set is at Indianapolis and Washington. By Dec. 14, Andrew Luck could be back in the starting lineup for the Colts, and Washington definitely will have Kirk Cousins at quarterback and a team presently with a winning record, a team that should have designs on being a wild-card team in the NFC.
6.) If the Giants weren’t pushovers, think about the Jets, who were supposed to be tanking this year. Instead, the other New York/New Jersey franchise has a 3-3 mark, and played the Patriots solidly.
7.) And the Broncos end up on New Year’s Eve at Mile High Stadium against the Chiefs. Could that game be for the division title, or will it be the Chiefs’ goal to have the home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs?
My Broncos’ prediction before the season was an 8-7-1 mark, and I’m sticking to my story. I think one of the Chiefs games will be a tie (because of the new rule this year limiting overtime to just 10 minutes).
But I based the record on the Broncos starting 4-1 (with a loss at Buffalo). I had them losing the next four games, and that’s within the realm of possibility. I also had them losing at Oakland, Miami, Indianapolis and Washington, and they likely will be favored in only one of those games (against the Colts).
Sunday’s game is now a consensus pick-em proposition because of what happened to the Broncos vs. the Giants, the injury issues (particularly with Emmanuel Sanders) and the failure of the offense to score more than one touchdown in each of the last three games – and errant field goals.
Trevor Siemian has dropped to the bottom tier of quarterbacks – even though several teams are playing backup quarterbacks, and the Browns are playing merry-go-round quarterbacks. In five games, Siemian, with a bum non-throwing shoulder again, has only eight touchdowns, with six interceptions. And the Broncos probably will be playing two wide receivers who weren’t even on the active roster last week.
Vance Joseph, Mike McCoy and Joe Woods have not established themselves as an elite head coach-coordinators trio yet with the Broncos.
And Brandon McManus has not been handy.
I’ve got Chargers 23-20, although I had considered 3-2 because the teams will be playing in a soccer stadium.
The Broncos’ schedule has become even more arduous than expected.