The Denver Broncos have a tough 2012 schedule.
Based on how their opponents finished in 2011, the Broncos will have the second toughest schedule in the league.
With a combined record of 139-117 in 2011 and a winning percentage of .543, the Broncos' opponents are a brutal group.
Denver will face seven teams that played in the playoffs last year.
For a little comparison, the 2012 New England Patriots will face just four playoff teams and their opponent's combined record is 116-140.
That means Denver is going to have to bring their premium game each week.
Head coach John Fox is starting his second season in Denver. Jack Del Rio has been brought in to shore up a defense that finished 20th overall in the league.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is completely revamping a run first offense to fit the skills of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
So what are the toughest hurdles for Denver in 2012?
And more specifically what units present the toughest challenges?
Here are the five most dangerous matchups on the 2012 schedule.
A familiar foe to Broncos fans, Philip Rivers and the Charger offense will once again present a problem.
Rivers struggled last season, throwing a mind-blowing 20 interceptions, and losing five fumbles.
He is no doubt very anxious to rebound from 2011.
The Charger offensive line also came under attack last season as they gave up 30 sacks on Rivers.
Still, for all of the hardships, the Chargers managed to score over 25 points per game. They also converted a whopping 49 percent of their third down attempts.
The offense will have a slightly different look to it this year as left guard Kris Dielman retired after nine solid seasons. Also gone are running back Mike Tolbert and wide receivers Patrick Crayton and Vincent Jackson.
So why should the Broncos' defense be concerned?
Well Rivers will be itching for revenge after his subpar 2011 outing. And when Rivers plays well he can be very tough to beat.
Running back Ryan Matthews ran for over 1,000 yards, so he is enough of a threat to keep the defense honest.
Tight end Antonio Gates should be at full health as he limped through a foot injury most of last year.
The Chargers also signed former Denver wide receiver Eddie Royal who had been a thorn in the Chargers' side over the past four years.
A vengeful Rivers and a number of other offensive weapons means the Broncos' pass defense needs to be very wary of the Chargers passing game.
The lasting memory that most fans have of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers defense is that of Bronco wide receiver Demaryius Thomas stiff arming his way to a game-winning touchdown in the playoffs last year.
So most of us forget that the Steelers led the league in defense.
The gave up just 272 yards and only 14 points per game.
And while Denver managed to score 29 points in the playoff game against the Steelers, it may not be that easy on opening night of 2012.
Pittsburgh only lost linebacker James Farrior from last season but he should be easily replaced with veteran Larry Foote.
And while the Broncos are completely changing their offense, and Peyton Manning should improve the passing game immensely, will they really be clicking in Week 1?
Denver will need a rushing attack to keep the Pittsburgh pass rush honest. If Willis McGahee can't get going, they Broncos could have a very tough opening night.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy had better put together a top-flight game plan for Pittsburgh.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster ran for 1,224 yards in 2011. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns rushing.
That isn't great news for a Denver defense that finished 22nd when defending the run. The Broncos gave up an average of 126 rushing yards per game.
Now for the worse news.
Ben Tate, the second running back in the Texan's potent one-two punch, picked up 942 yards and had four touchdowns in 2011.
Add to the equation the fact that Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub is returning from a season-ending injury and it makes the Week 3 game look even more daunting.
If the Bronco defense can't stop the Houston running game, it's going to be a long day in Denver.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots saw the Broncos twice last year.
All Brady did in those two games was go 49/68 for 683 yards and eight touchdowns.
Combined score in those two games? New England 86, Denver 33.
That's a month for many quarterbacks.
A good month.
The Broncos defense was unable to muster any sort of a pass rush in these two games, sacking Brady just twice combined.
When the Giants twice defeated the Patriots last season they harassed Brady. Don't just look at the sacks. Look at the hurries.
If Jack Del Rio's defense allows Brady to set his feet and scan the field, it's going to be the exact same outcome as last season.
The Baltimore Ravens pass rush is the most dangerous matchup on the 2012 Broncos schedule.
We can set aside the playoff implications that a Week 15 game in Baltimore may have as both teams battle for position in the AFC.
We can also silence the talk about how the Broncos have never gone into M&T Bank Stadium and won even a single game.
This is more than that. This is about the health of quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning is a Raven killer. In facing Baltimore 10 times, he has beaten them eight including the playoffs.
But this isn't the same offense he had in Indianapolis.
And this isn't the same Peyton Manning.
I am as excited as anyone that by all accounts Peyton seems healthier than he has been in the last five seasons.
Still, four neck surgeries are four neck surgeries.
The Broncos must protect Peyton Manning against the Ravens.
Failing to do so is simply not an option.