Woody Paige: Breaking down the Denver Broncos' 2018 schedule

DENVER -- The 59,031st version of an NFL schedule created by more than a hundred computers in Europe, and Saquon Barkley might save Vance Joseph’s job.

The Broncos’ schedule of games in the 2018 season, released by the league on Thursday evening, is kind at the beginning, more difficult toward the end.

The Broncos open at home on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9, against the Seahawks – a team in turmoil and, similar to the Broncos, in decline lately. The Broncos conclude the regular season on Dec. 30 at Mile High Stadium against AFC West division rival – the Chargers.

It is believed that if Joseph, who was an awful 5-11 as a rookie head coach, gets off to another terrible stretch, John Elway would dump him in mid-season and perhaps ask Gary Kubiak to return temporarily as coach, or the president of football operations would promote an assistant – maybe offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

But the computers and the four NFL executives responsible for assembling the complicated puzzle that is the schedule, and the annual set formula for teams’ opponents, could be very beneficial to Joseph.

Especially if the Broncos use the fifth pick overall next week for the player who probably will have the most offensive impact in the league in his rookie year.

Barkley would give the Broncos the running back for the running game they crave.

After Seattle, the Broncos again play at Mile High the next Sunday vs. the Raiders, who fell apart in 2017 and are now coached by Jon Gruden, who, honestly, wasn’t so special at the end of his previous coaching stint.

Then, the Broncos play in Baltimore, at home against the Chiefs and in New Jersey against the Jets.

The Broncos could be 4-1, and Joseph would be safe for the rest of the season. A 1-4 start, and he’s gone.

Based on their opponents’ records from last season, the Broncos are tied for fifth in easiest schedules this year. The Broncos have only four games with three returning playoff teams – the Chiefs in the usual home-and-home twice, the shocking Rams (owned by Denver owner mogul Stan Kroenke) and the Steelers. The only time the Broncos will be forced to play in a playoff franchise’s city will be the Oct. 28 game in Kansas City.

Here’s more good news:  The Broncos rarely – almost never – have won when the game is at Arrowhead Stadium in late November and any time in December because of the weather. The computers gave the Broncos a serious break with an October trip to Missouri.

I recently wrote here a complete schedule I’d love to see for the Broncos. It ruled out cold-weather cities late in the season, a bye early in the season, no back-to-back games against playoff contenders or division teams and friendly (and few) night games, particularly on Thursday.

I almost got my way.

The Broncos play two games in California in December – against the 49ers and the Raiders. It will be somewhat cold in both stadiums, but there won’t be snow and freezing rain. The Broncos must travel to Cincinnati on Dec. 2. They do end the season with games against the Raiders and the Chargers, but they will have an extra day of preparation for the Raiders (after a Saturday home game against the Browns), and that finale with the Los Angeles Chargers could be critical, not meaningless, in the division standings.

The Broncos have two Monday night games (here vs. K.C. and there vs. Oakland), one Thursday game (at the Cardinals) on Oct. 18 and that rare Saturday regular-season home game against the Browns on Dec. 15.

The Broncos’ bye is not after the fourth week, as it was last season, but, rather, in the season’s 10th week when the players really do need R&R (rest and recreation).

They play in December-chilling locales (New Jersey and Baltimore) early in the season and get two dome games (Arizona and Houston, on Nov. 4).  They play the Steelers and the Rams in Denver, and they don’t have to play the Patriots, which almost seems like an annual ritual, unless the two meet in the playoffs, which had been a regular event until the Broncos soured the last two seasons.

The Broncos could confront a herd of young quarterbacks – for the Browns, the Cardinals, the Jets, the Rams, the Chiefs, the Texans and the 49ers. And they will have to contend again with old foes Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers – and Russell Wilson to start with.

My early prediction is 8-8, and the victories could rise to 10-11 with Barkley.

The schedule is manageable.

But if Joseph doesn’t manage it better this year, nobody (Elway) and no bank of computers will salvage his job.

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