Tough Schedule Won't Stop Denver Broncos from Securing No. 1 Playoff Seed

Travis Wakeman@@traviswakeman10Correspondent IIApril 25, 2014

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning runs onto the field before the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Seahawks won 43-8. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya

The full 2014 NFL schedule was made available Wednesday night, and now, the predictions, assumptions and speculation will commence until that first game kicks off in September.

For the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos, the schedule for next season looks like a solid challenge—at least on paper in late April.

The Broncos will play nine games next season against teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2013.

Let's take a closer look at the schedule in it's entirety to see what other potential hurdles stand in Denver's way.


Season Opener

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 20:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos meet after the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 20, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won 39-33.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Broncos are scheduled to kick off the season on prime time television for the fourth year in a row. This time, it will be the Indianapolis Colts coming to Denver on the first Sunday night of the season.

Last season, the Broncos-Colts matchup in Week 7 was one of the most anticipated games of the season, largely due to the fact that Peyton Manning was making his first appearance against the team he once played for.

That may have caused some distraction for the Broncos, leading to a six-point defeat, their first of the season.

This time, Andrew Luck must bring his Colts into Denver and face the same kind of raucous atmosphere that Manning dealt with.

Key Stat: Since signing with the Broncos prior to the 2012 season, Manning has completed 46-of-68 passes for 715 yards and nine touchdowns in the two season openers he's played with the team. More importantly, Denver has won both of those games by a combined score of 80-46.


Super Bowl Rematch

Chris O'Meara

Sept. 21 is a day many Denver fans have likely already circled on their calendars.

Eager for revenge, that is the day the Broncos will travel to Seattle to face the team that thumped them in Super Bowl XLVIII.

It seems strange that the NFL chose not to start the season with this game, or even put it in a prime-time slot. However, according to Pro Football Talk, the NFL chose not to put the Seahawks in more than one nationally televised game at home for fear of games becoming blowouts in the tough confines of CenturyLink Field.

Regardless, this is a game the Broncos must get up for. It will be their first chance to show the NFC, specifically the Seahawks, how much they've improved since that night in February.

Key Stat: The Broncos have a 14-14 all-time record in Seattle, but haven't lost to the Seahawks on the road since October 2001. Seattle is 15-1 at home over the last two seasons.


Early Bye Week

The Broncos will be one of the first teams to get a week off this coming season, with their bye week coming in Week 4.

Most teams like to have their bye week later in the season, using it as a chance to prepare for the final stretch run into the playoffs and to rest players.

With the bye coming earlier, players won't be as tired, so the team will have to find a way to manage the final 13 weeks in a way they haven't had to do in recent years.

The bye week also comes after a very tough three-game stretch with games against the Colts, Chiefs and Seahawks.


Divisional Games

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:  Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos tries to avoid the tackle of  Richard Marshall #31 of the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Denver,
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Games within the AFC West are very spread out for the Broncos in 2014. After facing Kansas City in Week 2, they don't play another divisional game until Week 8 when they host San Diego.

The Chiefs and Chargers both played Denver tough last season, but the Broncos still went 5-1 within the division. They should have no problem accomplishing that feat again this year.

Denver concludes the regular season in Week 17 at home against Oakland, a team they have won five games in a row against.

With Manning at quarterback, the Broncos have outscored the Raiders by a margin of 134-54 in four games.

Key Stat: Over the last three seasons, the Broncos have a 15-4 record against the AFC West, including a 27-20 victory over San Diego in the divisional round of the playoffs last season.


Manning, Brady Meet Again

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots congratulates  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos after the Broncos defeated the Patriots 26 to 16 during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In what is becoming an annual trip, the Broncos will travel to Foxborough for the third consecutive regular season to meet the Patriots. New England has won both of the previous games along with a win in the Wild Card Round in 2012.

All of the talk leading into the game will center around the quarterback matchup between Manning and Tom Brady, but these are arguably the top two teams in the AFC.

Freakin' amazing we get Brady vs. Manning again. 16th time. HAS to be a record for non-divisional foes

— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) April 23, 2014

The Broncos defeated New England, 26-16, in the AFC Championship game last season for the right to go to the Super Bowl. There's a good chance those two teams could be playing for that same opportunity this year.

Still, it will mark the 16th time Manning and Brady have led their teams into battle against each other. That's quite a few when you consider how many times John Elway faced Dan Marino or Joe Montana met up with anyone who could hold a candle to him.


NFC Opponents

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles as defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks defends during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washi
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Broncos face the NFC West in 2014, so on top of the Week 3 trip to Seattle, they face Arizona in Week 5 and San Francisco in Week 7. Both of those games are at home. Then in Week 11, they travel to St. Louis to battle the Rams.

Anyone who has been following the NFL over the last few seasons knows that none of these games will be easy. All four teams in the NFC West play a tough brand of football that the Broncos will have to match up with.

If they are able to do so, nothing will prepare them for a run to the Super Bowl any better.

Key Stat: Denver has never lost to the Arizona Cardinals at home, and they hold a 7-1-1 all-time record against them.


Winnable Games

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 29: Thad Lewis #9 of the Buffalo Bills hands the ball off to teammate C.J. Spiller #28 in the second half against the New England Patriots during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo b
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The NFL is very hard to predict on a weekly basis, but the Broncos have gone 26-6 with Manning at quarterback. Because of that, there are several games the Broncos should breeze through in 2014.

Miami, New York Jets, Buffalo and Oakland (twice) are all games Denver should have no trouble winning. Despite Arizona and St. Louis playing in the tough NFC West, the Broncos should win both of those games as well because they're just a much more talented team.

If the Broncos win all of those games, that would be seven wins under their belt already.


Why Denver Will be AFC's No. 1 Seed

The Broncos have more wins over the last two seasons than any team in the NFL. With Manning still in town and a defense that features the additions of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, there's no reason that will change.

The Broncos boast a superior record in recent years over their divisional foes, and while San Diego and Kansas City can't be discounted, they're not on the same level as Denver.

The Broncos will also be even hungrier this year given the 35-point drubbing they suffered in the Super Bowl. This will be a motivating factor the entire season, especially with a guy like Manning leading the team.

The Broncos were arguably the best offensive team in NFL history in 2013. Is it possible they will be even better in 2014?

Manning has a new target in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and with tight end Julius Thomas breaking out last year, defenses simply won't be able to match up with all of Denver's weapons. That was the case much of last year, but Seattle found a way to overcome that when it mattered most.

Look for the Broncos to come out of the gates on fire, taking some aggression out on the Colts, who beat them last season. That game will be the catalyst for another impressive season, much like the season opener against Baltimore was in 2013.

The matchup with Seattle in Week 3 will be a good test for the team, but it will be difficult to get a win in Seattle, where the Seahawks use the noise of their fans to become nearly unbeatable.

Even if they don't get the win there, the Broncos should be in like for another 13-win season which will put them in position to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs once again.


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