The Lombardi Trophy seemed well within reach for the Denver Broncos until a stunning blown coverage in the AFC divisional playoffs sent the AFC's reigning regular-season champions home early.
2013 should be a year of vengeance. Although the Broncos lost a valuable defensive contributor in Elvis Dumervil due to a contract gaffe, Denver's brass gave Peyton Manning one of the most dependable receivers in the game in Wes Welker.
That massive addition, combined with the emerging outside tandem of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and dependable tight ends, gives the Broncos' offense all the necessary firepower to contend again—even if the defense dips a bit.
Here is a look at Denver's full schedule, as well as analysis of what the team's prospective opponents mean to its season—and another bid at a Super Bowl.
|2013 Denver Broncos Schedule|
|Week||Date||Opponent||Time (ET) ||TV|
|1||Sept. 5 ||vs. Baltimore Ravens ||8:30 p.m. ||NBC|
|2||Sept. 15 ||at New York Giants||4:25 p.m. ||CBS|
|3||Sept. 23 ||vs. Oakland Raiders||8:40 p.m.||ESPN|
|4||Sept. 29||vs. Philadelphia Eagles||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|5||Oct. 6||at Dallas Cowboys ||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|6||Oct. 13||vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m. ||CBS|
|7||Oct. 20||at Indianapolis Colts||8:30 p.m. ||NBC|
|8||Oct. 27||vs. Washington Redskins||4:25 p.m. ||FOX|
|9||Nov. 3||BYE WEEK||—||—|
|10||Nov. 10||at San Diego Chargers||4:25 p.m. ||CBS|
|11||Nov. 17||vs. Kansas City Chiefs||4:05 p.m. ||CBS|
|12||Nov. 24||at New England Patriots||8:30 p.m. ||NBC|
|13||Dec. 1||at Kansas City Chiefs||1 p.m.||CBS|
|14||Dec. 8||vs. Tennessee Titans||4:05 p.m. ||CBS|
|15||Dec. 12||vs. San Diego Chargers||8:25 p.m. ||NFL Network|
|16||Dec. 22 ||at Houston Texans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|17||Dec. 29 ||at Oakland Raiders||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
Note: For a complete look at Denver's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
Analysis of Opponents
As far as the AFC West division is concerned, both the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders are picking in the top three of the 2013 NFL draft.
While expectations should be tampered for Oakland due to a questionable defense and porous roster, Kansas City has a new coach in Andy Reid and stability under center with Alex Smith. That alone should help the team improve immensely in 2013.
The San Diego Chargers have missed the playoffs each of the last two years and are in flux under a completely new regime. There's talent there, but not as much as the Chiefs boast, and it's likely not enough to compete with Denver.
Thus, it should be another undefeated campaign in the division for the Broncos, but if they are to lose, it will likely come at the hands of Kansas City.
Now, for the fun part: Manning will get to take part in several highly intriguing battles with fellow standout signal-callers.
Manning will take on his brother, Eli, and the New York Giants in a marquee early-season matchup, and Peyton will also try to outgun reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and longtime rival Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
Denver faces Manning's successor in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck, in Week 7 in prime time, along with the Washington Redskins, who feature 2012 No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III.
The Broncos square off with the AFC South in 2013, which is Manning's old division. He's used to beating up on that competition, and it should be no different this time around.
Most Pivotal Matchup
The majority of the AFC schedule shouldn't pose many problems, so take your pick as far as which game is the most highly anticipated.
It's either going to be the sibling matchup between Peyton and Eli, or the showdown with Luck's Colts, and I'm partial to the latter.
The fact that Manning and Co. have to travel to Lucas Oil Stadium only heightens the anticipation, and it will be a landmark game for both teams.
While Denver figures to be a surefire championship contender, Indianapolis is coming off a stunning 11-win season. If the Colts can back that up by beating a team like the Broncos, it could spark the necessary momentum for them to take another gigantic step forward.
There are definitely other pitfalls in this schedule, but this was the best team in football at the end of the regular season. If not for the Rahim Moore slip-up against the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens, the Broncos may very well have walked away with the hardware in New Orleans.
Expect nothing less than another AFC West crown and a deep postseason run for Denver this season.