Peyton Manning is probably itching to see when he'll get a chance to atone for his mistake against the Ravens.
The 2013 schedules have been released, which means we now know the path the Denver Broncos must follow to get to the postseason. We have known the opponents for a while, but the order of those opponents can also have an impact on the season.
The AFC West could be a tougher division in 2013 than it was last year, and the Broncos also have tough road games against several playoff-caliber teams. The game is still played on the field, but the schedule is certainly worth examining.
Here’s a look at the 2013 schedule with game-by-game predictions, information and analysis.
The Broncos want to avoid another incident where Torrey Smith catches a long touchdown.
Kickoff: September 5, 8:30 p.m. ET
It’s safe to say the Broncos will want to win this game badly after the way they lost to the Ravens in the playoffs last season. The Broncos also return basically the same team, but the Ravens are still piecing together a defense after a mass exodus of players in free agency and the retirement of Ray Lewis.
Manning will be facing a vastly different defense that includes Elvis Dumervil, Michael Huff and Rolando McClain to replace Joe Kruger, Ed Reed and Lewis. Add to this fact that the Ravens weren’t nearly as good in the regular season as they were in the playoffs and it’s tough to see the Broncos not winning this game at home.
The Broncos won easily in Baltimore in Week 15, and something similar seems likely when the two teams play again this season. People will point to the playoff game as an indicator that Baltimore could win this game, but the Ravens are a very different team now, and the Broncos are even better.
Score Prediction: Ravens 24, Broncos 31
The Manning brothers haven't played each other in a few years.
Kickoff: September 15, 4:25 p.m. ET
Don’t sleep on the Giants, even though they missed the playoffs last year. The Giants scored more points and allowed fewer points in 2012 than they did in 2011, which happened to be the year they won their last Super Bowl. The Giants had the ninth-best point differential in the entire league last year and didn’t make the playoffs at 9-7.
At home last season, the Giants averaged an amazing 35 points per game and lost just twice. On the road, the Giants averaged 19 points per game and lost five times. The Broncos travel to New York, so you can expect the Giants to bring their best with them. At worst, expect a close game as the Giants' two losses at home came by a score or less.
Eli Manning is an elite quarterback that knows how to get rid of the ball. In fact, Eli was the only quarterback last season with a lower sack percentage than Peyton Manning. You can almost expect that Jason Pierre-Paul and Von Miller will have a hard time getting sacks in this game.
Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are two of the best receivers in the game and should be able to break through a few times against Denver’s secondary. The Giants may also turn their running game over to David Wilson, who is dynamic with the ball in his hands.
The Giants have a lot of playmakers just like the Broncos, and the game certainly has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. Only turnovers seem likely to slow either offense down. The Giants are just good enough to edge the Broncos, but this game could go either way.
Score Prediction: Broncos 27, Giants 28
Is Dennis Allen wondering what he got himself into by becoming the head coach in Oakland?
Kickoff: September 23, 8:40 p.m. ET
You can’t help but wonder if Dennis Allen regrets taking the job in Oakland. If Allen was still the defensive coordinator in Denver, he’d be a lot closer to winning a Super Bowl. Allen’s Raiders are struggling just to put quality football players on the roster, while Denver is adding impact pieces to make a run at a ring.
Oakland’s defense will likely have nine new starters, which is an incredible amount of turnover for a team still missing draft picks. You can’t reasonably expect that Oakland’s defense is going to be able to slow down Denver’s offense. It’s probable that the Broncos get a big lead early and cruise to victory.
Denver’s defense shouldn’t have too much trouble slowing down Matt Flynn and Oakland’s young receivers. As long as McFadden doesn’t go crazy, Denver’s defense is well-equipped to handle anything the Raiders can throw at them.
Score Prediction: Raiders 14, Broncos 28
No one knows what to expect from Chip Kelly's Eagles.
Kickoff: September 29, 4:25 p.m. ET
Chip Kelly’s offense is either going to flame out or light the league on fire. Kelly’s success at Oregon with some revolutionary concepts makes him just scary enough to think the Eagles could make some noise in 2013.
Offensively, the Eagles still have plenty of weapons for Kelly to use. Michael Vick is dangerous if he can avoid turnovers and throw the ball with accuracy to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Kelly also has two talented running backs to use in LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown.
The Eagles are a team with enough talent on one side of the ball to give the Broncos an unexpected scare. It’s Philadelphia’s defense that will let them down against the Broncos. Expect a high-scoring affair, and don’t be surprised if it comes down the final possession.
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Broncos 30
Tony Romo is better than people think.
Kickoff: October 6, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Cowboys spent a lot of resources on their pair of cornerbacks, but as a team, they had just seven interceptions last year. Considering the team still has DeMarcus Ware and can still rush the passer, you would expect the Cowboys to be a lot better against the pass.
The Broncos don’t have to worry much about turning the ball over through the air, but the bad news is that the Cowboys have the talent to slow down their passing attack on the outside. This will be a big game for Wes Welker and the running game, but they should be up to the challenge.
Tony Romo is one of the better quarterbacks in the entire league, and he’ll keep his team in the game even against Denver’s defense. Chances are the Broncos’ offense will just overwhelm the Cowboys’ defense.
Score Prediction: Broncos 35, Cowboys 24
Maurice Jones-Drew should return healthy in 2013.
Kickoff: October 13, 1:05 p.m. ET
The Jaguars were one of the worst teams in the league last season. Not only were they bad, but they also didn’t have nearly the same kind of talent on the roster as the Chiefs. There’s not a lot that can be done in one season to turn a two-win team into one that can beat a team like the Broncos on the road.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a dangerous running back, but it’s a passing league now. At best, the Jaguars are starting a rookie quarterback and Jones-Drew while fielding a defense that lost cornerback Derek Cox to the San Diego Chargers.
There’s some talent on the Jaguars roster, like Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis, but there’s not enough to make you think they can mount a serious challenge on the road against a team that should be one of the contenders to win it all in 2013.
Score Prediction: Jaguars 17, Broncos 31
Andrew Luck replaced Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
Kickoff: October 20, 8:30 p.m. ET
Peyton Manning returns to the place where his professional career started to face a team that was surprisingly good with Andrew Luck at quarterback last year. Although the two will never be on the field at the same time, it’s tough not to envision this game as the Manning vs. Luck game.
In reality, Manning will be going against Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 defense and Luck will be going against Denver’s 4-3 hybrid defense. Manning should have his way with the Colts because the defense was one of the big problems for the Colts last year. Manning will certainly be comfortable playing on the road in Indianapolis, having played home games there for 13 years.
Luck faces a much tougher defense, but he should also be even better as a sophomore quarterback in the same offense he played in at Stanford. Luck is probably another year or two away from reaching Manning’s level, but the game has to be close or it wouldn’t be Manning vs. Luck.
Ultimately, Luck is a couple of years away from reaching Manning’s level, and the Broncos have more weapons and a better defense. Expect a close win for the Broncos in Manning’s return to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Score Prediction: Broncos 30, Colts 28
Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III.
Kickoff: October 27, 4:25 p.m ET
Mike Shanahan returns to Denver with Robert Griffin III as his quarterback. The Redskins were impressive on the back of the rookie quarterback last year, but they faltered in the playoffs mostly because Griffin wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
The Redskins scored more than 30 points six times last year (three times on the road), so they are one of the few teams capable of matching the Broncos in Denver. The running quarterback is not something the Broncos have had to defend recently or often, so there could be some growing pains with how it’s defended.
Manning is going to be productive against most defenses, and Washington’s defense is far from scary. Most of the good offenses the Redskins played last year scored 27 points or more. If the Redskins are going to make it interesting, they are going to have to score often on offense.
The Redskins are definitely a team on the rise and one that will test the Broncos. The Redskins lost by more than one score just one time last year. Griffin is the equalizer, and the Broncos should expect a tough game.
Score Prediction: Redskins 34, Broncos 31
Peyton Manning isn't getting any younger. He could use the bye week to rest.
The Broncos will take the bye week to heal, rest and prepare for the rest of the season.
The Broncos got after Philip Rivers last year.
Kickoff: November 10, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Chargers' collapse against the Broncos in Week 6 sent their season down the tubes and propelled the Broncos' amazing second half. The Chargers actually kept things close with the Broncos in both games last year, which will likely be the case again in 2013.
Mike McCoy’s knowledge of Denver’s offense could help the Chargers slow down Manning to some extent. Despite a few hiccups, Manning will still be able to take advantage of the thin secondary in San Diego. San Diego simply doesn’t have the personnel to cover all of Denver’s weapons.
When Philip Rivers gets protection, he’s a different quarterback. Von Miller will have to put the heat on Rivers against a rebuilt offensive line. San Diego is putting a lot of effort into protecting Rivers, which could make him even more dangerous as a passer if the Broncos can’t make him uncomfortable.
McCoy will also try to have a balanced attack in San Diego like he did in Denver. There’s reason to believe this game isn’t going to be an easy one for the Broncos, but they should still be able to come away with the victory.
Score Prediction: Broncos 28, Chargers 24
The Broncos have to contain Jamaal Charles if they want to beat the Chiefs.
Kickoff: November 17, 4:05 p.m. ET
The Broncos cruised to a 38-3 victory against the Chiefs in Denver last season. It’s a different season and the Chiefs are a very different team, but it’s tough to imagine them improving to the point that they can take down the Broncos in Denver.
The guy that can take over a game for the Chiefs is Jamaal Charles. Although Alex Smith is a more credible quarterback than the Chiefs had last year, he’s probably not going to be the guy that merits the most attention. Load the box to stop Charles, bracket Dwayne Bowe and take your chances in single coverage against Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery and Anthony Fasano.
Unless Smith turns into Aaron Rodgers in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, than the Broncos should cruise to victory on the back of their amazing offense. Don’t sleep on Kansas City’s defense keeping the game close early, but Peyton Manning should be able to adjust to whatever they are throwing at him.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 17, Broncos 30
Wes Welker switched sides in the budding rivalry between the Broncos and Patriots.
Kickoff: November 23, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Broncos lost to the Patriots 31-21 last season in New England in what was their only loss of the year by multiple scores. The loss to the Patriots in Week 5 was also the last loss of the regular season for the Broncos.
You can bet that Wes Welker wants to have a big game against his former team, the same team that pushed him aside for the younger Danny Amendola. Welker’s presence gives the Broncos something they didn’t have the last time these two teams played: a third weapon in the passing game. Expect Welker to make a big impact.
The Patriots are taking a risk, and they could be without a lot of their top offensive producers from last season if Rob Gronkowski doesn’t return healthy. Until proven otherwise, the Patriots know exactly what they are doing offensively switching from Amendola to Welker, so don’t expect them to be any less prolific on offense because of the switch.
Until the Broncos beat the Patriots, the AFC’s best team may reside in New England. The Broncos would certainly like to beat the Patriots in this game, but don’t be surprised if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.
The difference in this game could come down to the production of both slot receivers, because both teams have the personnel to slow down the outside passing attack. Don’t be surprised if this game is every bit as much Welker vs. Amendola as it is Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.
Score Prediction: Broncos 31, Patriots 35
Alex Smith is an improvement, but it remains to be seen if he can be an elite quarterback.
Kickoff: December 1, 1 p.m. ET
The lowly Chiefs played the Broncos tough at home in 2012, and that was with a very flawed roster. The Chiefs have a good pass rush and have improved drastically in the secondary this offseason. There is reason to believe the Chiefs could give the Broncos some issues in 2013.
Kansas City also has a vastly improved offense with a legitimate quarterback in the proven scheme of Andy Reid. The Chiefs should run the ball and preach ball security. Smith’s job will be to get the ball out of his hands quickly to neutralize Von Miller as much as possible.
The Broncos offense can only be slowed down at this point, but the Chiefs have the pass rush and the players in their secondary to do it. Running the ball could also be a challenge for the Broncos against Kansas City’s stout front seven.
Chances are one of the AFC West teams is going to steal one from the Broncos, and the Chiefs seem to have the personnel to do it.
Score Prediction: Broncos 27, Chiefs 28
Jake Locker doesn't put fear into the hearts of anyone.
Kickoff: December 8, 4:05 p.m. ET
It has become clear to most by now that Jake Locker isn’t the answer in Tennessee, but he’ll be the starter in 2013 for the Titans. Couple a below-average quarterback with a bad defense and you get the recipe for a bad team in 2013 that the Broncos should be able to handle quite easily.
As with many of the teams the Broncos face in 2013, there is a running back that must be contained or things could get interesting. Chris Johnson is still fast, but the Broncos have excellent team speed at linebacker and a stout defensive line.
The Broncos should be able to take care of business against a Titans team that will have no answer for their trio of wide receivers. Unless the Broncos look past the Titans, this should be one of their easier wins.
Score Prediction: Titans 10, Broncos 34
Peyton Manning didn't have too much trouble burning San Diegp's secondary last season.
Kickoff: December 12, 8:25 p.m. ET
Network: NFL Network
Last season, the Broncos won both games against the Chargers, and you could make a case that the Broncos have improved this offseason a lot more than the Chargers. After releasing several veteran players on defense, the Chargers are in need of an infusion of young talent. Unless Norv Turner was keeping younger inferior talent on the bench on defense, the Chargers may not be able to keep pace with the Broncos in Denver.
Only one of Denver’s three losses in 2012 came at home. In every game besides the Week 3 loss to the Texans, the Broncos scored 30 or more points. The Chargers scored more than 30 points on the road only twice in 2012, and one of those games was against the Chiefs.
Even an improved Chargers team will struggle to score 30 or more points on the road against a quality defense. Provided the Broncos don’t make any huge mistakes, there’s no reason they shouldn’t score at least 30 points at home against a below-average defense and win easily.
Score Prediction: Chargers 21, Broncos 31
Andre Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league.
Kickoff: December 22, 1 p.m. ET
The Texans got the best of the Broncos in Denver last season, and the biggest problem for the Broncos was allowing big plays in the passing game. Kevin Walter, Andre Johnson and Lestar Jean had long catches, and two of them went for touchdowns.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate are a great combination in the backfield and give the Texans multiple ways to beat their opponents. The Texans have a rare offense that is capable of scoring on the ground or through the air.
The other big problem for the Broncos against the Texans was scoring in the red zone. The Texans held the Broncos to three field goals in the first three quarters before Denver broke through with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Houston’s defense is one of the few capable of slowing down Denver’s passing attack because they have two solid cornerbacks and a good pass rush. No one expects Manning to get shut down completely, but keeping Denver out of the end zone is a victory for opposing defenses.
The Broncos are going to have to play better defense against Matt Schaub, Johnson and Foster to come away with the win. Considering the game is in Houston, the Texans might have a slight edge.
Score Prediction: Broncos 24, Texans 27
The Broncos have had trouble wrangling Darren McFadden in the past.
Kickoff: December 29, 4:25 p.m.
The Broncos had no trouble with the Raiders in 2012 and shouldn’t have any problem winning in Oakland in 2013. The Raiders are rebuilding, and they aren't the kind of rebuilding team that should give the Broncos problems.
Even though the Raiders have improved on defense, they haven’t added a pass-rusher that can make Peyton Manning uncomfortable or cornerbacks that can consistently cover Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. The Broncos should have no trouble cutting through Oakland’s defense with the pass even if they have some trouble running the ball.
Oakland is switching back to the power-blocking scheme that favors running back Darren McFadden. In the 2011 season opener, McFadden rushed for 150 yards against the Broncos using the same scheme. There’s reason to believe Oakland’s offense will be able to produce enough to keep things close in the first half, but the Broncos should easily pull away in the second half for the win.
Score Prediction: Broncos 34, Raiders 20