Denver Broncos' 5 Biggest Games of 2012
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Ouch. We all knew the schedule for 2012 would be daunting, but to actually see the games arranged in home and away schedule, as well as which weeks the Broncos face certain opponents, and the reality sets in: The Broncos have their work cut out for them this season.
To examine this schedule in detail, the Broncos have it rough, especially at the beginning, facing six playoff teams in their first eight games and only facing four losing teams all year (counting the Chiefs only once).
No one can predict if Peyton Manning will remain healthy for the entire season, but despite some of his late game heroics, Tim Tebow would be eaten alive by this challenge (just to be clear, I have nothing against Tim Tebow; I think he was a better QB than most do). It's nice to know that we have a QB with some experience against the tougher teams in the league.
So how do Peyton, Champ, "Doom and Gloom" and the rest of the Broncos crew make it to the top of the AFC, and beyond, this season? These are five games that the Broncos must win to show the NFL that they are serious contenders.
Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority on MNF
The Broncos welcome Harrison and company week 1
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This game has it all: the culmination of the Peyton Manning experiment taking the field for the first time in a meaningful game; a vengeful and aggressive Pittsburgh unit still reeling from the one play OT debacle on the Tebow-to-Thomas catch and run; the roaring Monday Night Football environment and their first home game of the season.
This game is key for several reasons. First, despite your feelings on whether Harrison and the Steelers' defense field dirty players, something that cannot be debated is that they hit hard and hit often, with Harrison leading the way. This will be a true testament to the multitude of Peyton Manning neck surgeries if he can survive a hit by Woodley, Harrison or any member of the "Steel Curtain."
Also, this game needs to be a trend setter. With the explosive atmosphere, the Broncos and Manning need to show everyone that this team the real deal and ready to defend its home field at any cost.
If the Broncos can win this game, showcasing their skills on both sides of the ball, then this will set the tone for 2012.
Week 5: The New England Patriots at Gillette Field
Brady shredded the Broncos in two games last year.
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Despite the fact that the Giants have been able to figure out the "Tom Brady Show," few others have managed to, especially in the AFC.
Brady and company personally put on an offensive clinic in the two games they faced the Broncos last year, shredding them 41-23 in Denver and then putting the hurt to them even worse in a 45-10 shellacking at Gillette Field, en route to their run to the Super Bowl.
Taking all of this into account, plus adding to the pile the ongoing back-and-forth rivalry between Manning and Brady, and you have the makings of an extremely important football game.
This year, the Broncos should be much more competitive on both sides of the ball, with upgrades already at many key positions, not to mention the pieces added in next week's draft. Don't expect a blow out on either side, as both units are piloted by fierce competitors.
The importance of this game? No matter what additions the Broncos have and how good they may look on paper, it is wins against the top echelon of teams in your conference (especially on the road) that prove you have the brass to make a run. A win here would be huge in solidifying this team as a serious contender.
Week 6: The San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium
Rivers' record against Manning is well documented
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The constant rivalries in the AFC West seem to fluctuate with records, but no rivalry has been more devastating to the Broncos than Norv Turner and the Chargers. Who could forget when they put the nail in the coffin of Mike Shanahan's tenure in Denver?
Couple all of this with the fact that Turner and Rivers seem to have Peyton's number, too. Under Turner, with Rivers at QB, the Chargers have posted a 4-1 record against Peyton. Don't think that this won't add fuel to an already combustible fire.
In order for the Broncos to rise to AFC prominence, they first have to win their division, and despite the fact that the Chargers have been consistent underachievers under Turner, they seem to have the AFC West cornered right now, winning the division five out of the last eight seasons.
In order for the Broncos to flex their proverbial muscles, defeating the Chargers is where it starts.
Week 14: The Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum
Dennis Allen is familiar with the Broncos defense
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The Al Davis era ended in the middle of last season, ending a long-term rivalry between Davis' Raiders and the Denver Broncos. Despite Davis' passing, the coaching carousel that encapsulates the Raiders' policy continued, as Hugh Jackson was shown the door, despite a decent 8-8 season. To be fair, Jackson lobbied to mortgage the Raiders' future to acquire Carson Palmer, a move that had mediocre results.
Enter Dennis Allen, or as some of us will call him, Benedict Allen. Truthfully, you can't fault Allen for leaving to run his own team, and his loyalty to the Broncos only lasted one season/ But you know that deep down, Elway and Fox want to stick it to their former employee, especially now that he heads up the hated Raiders.
The Raiders seem to have been caught in limbo since their unexpected loss to the Bucs in Super Bowl in 2002, running through a number of quarterbacks of the future (JaMarcus Russell, I'm looking right at you and that sizzurp you're holding) and a plethora of one-and-done head coaches, to which Allen now willingly joins the fray.
The bottom line is that the Broncos must beat the Raiders in both games, given that there are very few gimmes this year. That means that this one on the road is vital to capturing the AFC West and a top seed in the playoffs. Let's hope Allen's pirate ship sinks like many of his predecessors'.
Week 15: The Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium
Suggs will bring the heat week 15
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This game has many interesting facets to it. First, combine the comments regarding the Steelers—tough, hard-hitting defense—and the Patriots—to be the best, you have to beat the best—and you have the Baltimore Ravens, led by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.
The Ravens are sound on both sides of the ball, with leaders such as Lewis, Suggs, Flacco and Ray Rice chewing up yards and quarterbacks, making them annually one of the dominant teams in the AFC and the entire NFL.
This game is also the last road game of the year, as the Broncos finish against the Browns and Chiefs at home (two games they should win). So this test will definitely be a big one, on the road against last year's No. 2 team in the AFC.
Winning this game will provide a needed boast heading down the stretch that will hopefully spill over into the playoffs. A poor showing here could take the wind out of the Broncos' sails.
Playoff Bound? Super Bowl Bound? A Tough Task with This Schedule
Fox will have a tough task to take the Broncos to new heights
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Ultimately, these are just five games that provide the Broncos with the most crucial opportunities to win the AFC West and secure a solid playoff slot, not to mention prove themselves against the best teams in the AFC.
However, the other key for the Broncos will be to win the games that they should win. An overall record of 11-5 or better will be needed in order to receive one of the two first-round byes, while 10-6 should get them in period.
John Fox and the coaching staff will have to pull out all the stops to reach these lofty goals this year and ensure the Broncos gain the playoff success they pine for, with hopefully a shot at the Super Bowl.
Despite the fact that this is the toughest schedule in recent memory, if the Broncos bring in a solid corps of draft picks next week and maintain the type of intensity that Peyton Manning-led teams are known for, plus add a little luck against injuries, they should be well positioned for success.