The 5 Games That Will Determine Denver Broncos' Fate in 2013
But before we get too ahead of ourselves and begin proclaiming the Broncos Super Bowl favorites, we have to first examine Denver's schedule and what it will take for the team to finish with another strong record in 2013.
Here's a look at five of the most important games the Broncos will play this fall.
Week 1 vs. Baltimore Ravens (TNF)
Denver's brilliant season came to a crashing halt in their first playoff game when the Baltimore Ravens defeated them in second overtime of the Divisional Round of the postseason.
That game is long out of the memory of the Ravens—they went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have had that game burned into the back of their minds throughout the offseason and have one goal in mind—Week 1 revenge on national television in Denver.
53.6% of you think the Broncos will beat the Ravens in the NFL Season opener. This #NFLStatsPoll had 267 voters.— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) June 6, 2013
As goes Week 1, so may go the season for both teams.
Last year, the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 on Sunday Night Football in their season opener at home and went on to have a big year. They'll want that trend to continue in 2013.
Week 8 vs. Washington Redskins (FOX)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
As long as Mike Shanahan is their head coach, the Washington Redskins will always have a unique connection to the Denver Broncos.
Shanahan, of course, coached the Broncos to a pair of Super Bowl victories with John Elway playing quarterback in the late 1990s and is now coaching Robert Griffin III in Washington. Elway, meanwhile, is now running the Broncos with Peyton Manning as his quarterback.
In Week 8, Shanahan will return to Denver in a midseason game that will be sure to draw considerable attention due to many notable storyline (Elway v. Shanahan, RG3 v. Manning, etc.).
But the game will be key for the Broncos due to the fact that their bye is the following Sunday.
Last season, Denver had a huge come-from-behind victory over the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football. The Broncos were 2-3 at the time of the 35-24 victory, but the momentum from that win propelled them to dominate that remainder of their regular-season schedule.
Going into their bye week with momentum will be key again in 2013.
Week 12 @ New England Patriots (SNF)
The last two times the Broncos have played the New England Patriots (including the 2012 playoffs), they have lost by combined scores of 76-31.
That's an embarrassing stat for the Broncos and their fans.
But that's not what will make this game so important.
This matchup will take place twelve weeks into the season—giving the AFC playoff race plenty of time to heat up. With playoff seeding likely on the line, this game will be huge for both teams.
Adding to the fun is the fact that Peyton Manning will be facing off against Tom Brady once again. And oh, yeah, there's that other guy that used to play in Denver—what's his name?
Week 10 @ San Diego Chargers (CBS)
Before the Broncos go anywhere, they have to first get past their own division.
Winning the AFC West for a third consecutive season will be key to Denver's success in 2013—you can't get to the Super Bowl if you don't make it into the playoffs, as former tight end Shannon Sharpe so profoundly once said.
The Broncos swept their division last season, but after the Kansas City Chiefs made huge strides in the offseason, that will be hard to repeat in 2013. Denver's hardest division games will like come in Week 13 (at Kansas City) and Week 10 (at San Diego).
This particular Week 10 showdown will be the follow-up game to Denver's bye week. If the Broncos are going to finish the season on a strong note, it will start by coming out of their bye on the right foot.
Week 16 @ Houston Texans (CBS)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Like the Broncos' Week 12 game against the Patriots, Denver's Week 15 showdown against the Houston Texans is bound to have AFC playoff implications.
Playoff seeding will likely again be on the line—as could playoff berths.
This will be the Broncos second to final game of the season and if they team is, say, 11-3 at the time, a win may mean the difference between hosting or traveling early in the playoffs.
The Broncos played both the Texans and Patriots early in 2012, losing both games. A strong argument could be made that Peyton Manning was still getting back into his groove when those losses occurred.
With that being the case, the Broncos likely would have performed better if they had played the two AFC powerhouses later in the season.
Denver will get another chance at both teams again in 2013 and both games will be played later in the season, right around the time the Broncos started to get hot in 2012. This game will be huge.