Things couldn't have gone much better for the 2013 Denver Broncos, at least until they faced the Seattle Seahawks. The team finished 13-3, smashed multiple offensive records with Peyton Manning leading the way and answered any questions in the postseason by reaching Super Bowl XLVIII.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks destroyed them in the Super Bowl, winning 43-8 by essentially beating the Broncos up physically and embarrassing them in the process. Yet revenge could be Denver's during the 2014 regular season, as the teams are set to meet again.
You can go ahead and circle that date on the calendar now.
And while you're at it, you might as well take a look at the team's entire schedule for the 2014 NFL season, which has been listed below along with analysis of the Broncos and their opponents before heading into the season.
It's Super Bowl or bust in 2014 for the Broncos. Let's take a look at the road they'll have to take to get there.
|2014 Denver Broncos Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||Sept. 7||vs. Indianapolis Colts||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|2||Sept. 14||vs. Kansas City Chiefs||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 21||at Seattle Seahawks||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|5||Oct. 5||vs. Arizona Cardinals||4:05 p.m.||Fox|
|6||Oct. 12||at New York Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 19||vs. San Francisco 49ers||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|8||Oct. 23||vs. San Diego Chargers||8:25 p.m.||CBS|
|9||Nov. 2||at New England Patriots||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|10||Nov. 9||at Oakland Raiders||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 16||at St. Louis Rams||1 p.m.||CBS|
|12||Nov. 23||vs. Miami Dolphins||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Nov. 30||at Kansas City Chiefs||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|14||Dec. 7||vs. Buffalo Bills||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|15||Dec. 14||at San Diego Chargers||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|16||Dec. 22||at Cincinnati Bengals||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|17||Dec. 28||vs. Oakland Raiders||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
If the Broncos return to the playoffs—and given the moves they've made this offseason and the talent already on the roster, they absolutely should—they'll have to survive a tough schedule to do so.
The Broncos have nine games against teams that reached the playoffs a season ago, and 12 of their games come against teams who went 8-8 or better last year.
In other words, you won't hear many people accusing the Broncos of playing a soft schedule this year.
Of course, if any team is up to the task, it is this Broncos team. Denver was one of the biggest players in free agency this year, adding DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib to bolster the defense, while Emmanuel Sanders was added to replace the departed Eric Decker.
There will be questions, of course. For one, can Sanders replicate the chemistry that Manning and Decker had established?
John Elway certainly thinks Sanders is the right man for the job, as he told Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com.
"When we looked at him, and I've said this to our guys, too, you saw a guy who has only scratched the surface," Elway said. "He's young with a lot of potential, even on top of what he's already done."
Meanwhile, Knowshon Moreno signed with the Miami Dolphins, taking his 1,586 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns in 2013 with him. As Christopher Harris of ESPN hinted at, however, much of Moreno's value to the offense last year may have been scheme-related:
With Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman on the roster already, the Broncos will be hoping the loss of Moreno won't be a major one. Ball will be a major part of the offense this season and was certainly drafted to be the primary back in Denver, so his performance this year will be closely scrutinized.
And can the free-agent additions on defense improve a unit that had some rocky patches last season? With Ware and Von Miller rushing the quarterback, you'd expect the Broncos to accumulate plenty of sacks. And the secondary should be drastically improved, especially with Chris Harris returning from injury, though a familiar face in Champ Bailey is gone.
The road is full of potential potholes for the 2014 Broncos. But given the talent they have and the run they made last year behind Manning, few teams seem more equipped to handle a difficult path back to the playoffs.
The Broncos are slated to face the three other teams that reached the conference championships a year ago—the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks. And away games against the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals, Patriots and Seahawks will all be major tests.
Considering these opponents, it should be no surprise that Denver has the second-hardest strength of schedule in 2014, according to ESPN.com. Drawing the 49ers at home should help, but having to travel to CenturyLink Field will be one of the biggest obstacles of the season and the game fans are most likely to circle on the calendar.
If the Broncos are to top the AFC once again and earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, coming out of the above contests still smelling like roses will be key. Denver is built for a Super Bowl run, but they'll be tested getting to that point—that much is certain.