DENVER -- With all the hullabaloo over the draft, free agency and radical rule changes as April begins, the official release of the 2018 NFL schedule on the 19th has been ignored.
It’s already known who the Broncos will play and where, and that the Broncos will play the league’s supposed fifth-easiest schedule (tied with the Steelers and the Jaguars), based on opponents’ records last season (122-134, .477 winning percentage).
Before 2017 the Broncos were designated as the team with the most difficult schedule, and they did finish 5-11. So it was tough, especially considering that the Broncos won only 1 of 8 on the road, were last in the AFC West and didn’t make the playoffs for consecutive years.
Will this schedule help in the dreaded, unmentionable “R”? (Rebuild, but don’t tell John Elway.)
The Broncos do play only three teams that reached the postseason last year. They get the Steelers and the Rams at home and the Chiefs twice.
In the return of Wade Phillips and Aqib Talib, with a team on the cusp of a potential championship run, the Rams will be no bargain. The Steelers, of course, are always nasty for the Broncos. And the Chiefs did beat the Broncos in both games last year.
Of course, the Broncos play the other usual suspects from the division – the Raiders and the Chargers – and have three more games at Mile High Stadium against the Browns, the Texans and those pesky Seahawks.
In addition to the division games, the Broncos travel to meet the Jets, the Bengals, the Cardinals, the Ravens and the 49ers, which will be a duel matching the Broncos’ two finalists for head coach – Kyle Shanahan and Vance Joseph – and Elway vs. San Francisco general manager John Lynch, the former Broncos’ safety who was mentored for an executive’s job by Elway.
The NFL schedule used to be put together like a gigantic, complicated jigsaw puzzle by the late Val Pinchbeck, who decades ago served as the Broncos’ media relations director. Now, it’s mostly a compilation spit out by computers, and tweaked by humans.
Nobody asked for my assistance, but I’ve created the best possible schedule scenario, in honor of the memory of Val, for the Broncos.
The No. 1 rule in my schedule for the Broncos is: Avoid at all costs a game at Arrowhead Stadium late in the season. In their history, the Broncos have rarely won in Kansas City in December because of the weather factor – cold, windy, rainy. Elway hated playing there then, and his results proved it. In his first start at Arrowhead, Dec. 18, 1983, Elway lost 48-17. (Much later, he said that playing in rain was worse than snow because of the slipperiness of the ball.)
Elway’s Broncos also lost 37-10 and 42-20 in December games in K.C.
He won his biggest on Jan. 4, 1998, against the Chiefs in Kansas City in an AFC playoff game (14-10).
No. 2 is no other cold-weather locales, except Denver, in the last month. No. 3 is no Thursday night games on the road after a Sunday road game, and the only Thursday night game should be at home. No. 4 is a bye halfway through the season instead of after four games (as was the case in ’17). No. 5 is schedule a playoff-type team after the bye. No. 6 is don’t play back-to-back against division teams. And No. 7 is schedule two division teams in December so the Broncos can determine their own fate.
Here’s the when-win for the Broncos:
Sept. 9 – at Jets. (It’s still nice in New York, and the Broncos want to open against a mediocre team).
Sept. 16 – Chargers (and a potential 2-0 start).
Sept. 23 – at Bengals (3-0?)
Sept. 30 – Raiders.
Oct. 7 – at Ravens.
Oct. 14 – Seahawks.
Oct. 21 – at Chiefs (no December).
October 29 – Monday night, Texans.
Nov. 4 – Bye.
Nov. 8 – Thursday night, Steelers (with 10 days to prepare for Ben Roethlisberger).
Nov. 18 – at Raiders. (And extra time, too, between games.)
Nov. 25 – Sunday night, Rams.
Dec. 2 – Chiefs.
Dec. 9 – at 49ers.
Dec. 16 – Browns.
Dec. 23 – at Arizona (domed stadium in December).
Dec. 30 – at Chargers (Los Angeles will be pleasant).
Who, what, when and why, and the Broncos have to figure out how.