How will Broncos fans handle the return of their former franchise quarterback?
While every football season feels too brief for fans because 16 games could never be enough, there are still a couple of games every season that are just a little bit more special. Some of those games are because of division rivalry, and others are because of the strength of the opponent.
In rare circumstances, the weight of a game is elevated by the off-field human drama that often dominates NFL offseasons. This year for Broncos fans might feature the most controversial player return in the team's history. And no, to end the suspense, this is not a reference to the team's visit to Miami in Week 7.
This season will feature a tour of yesteryear, as the Broncos will face off against the three big offensive talents drafted in the class of 2006. Brandon Marshall currently plays with the Miami Dolphins, Tony Scheffler with the Detroit Lions, and Jay Cutler with the Chicago Bears. But with such an intriguing total schedule this season, only one of those games makes this list.
These are the five must see games of the Denver Broncos 2011 NFL schedule.
Actually, even without Brady in 2008, the Patriots went 11-5. Bill Belichick has cemented himself as the premier coach in the NFL, and having this team on the schedule makes this game absolutely a must see.
Recent contests between the Broncos and Patriots have yielded mixed results. In the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoffs, Champ Bailey picked Tom Brady in a classic, 100 yd return that changed the course of the game in the third quarter.
During the 2008 season, Matt Cassel humiliated Jay Cutler and the Broncos on Monday Night Football—41-7. Notably absent from that contest was Champ Bailey.
More recently was the 2009 classic, in which then head coach Josh McDaniels had his biggest moment immortalized by a few fist pumps. The big time underdog Denver team knocked off the Patriots to move to 5-0. Of course, the Patriots ended the season at 10-6 and the Broncos missed the playoffs.
This has become a back and forth rivalry that brings out the best in both teams regardless of how good or bad either team is.
Last season's game against the Jets was truly a moral turning point for the Broncos. Unfortunately, it ended with team and fan morale turning way south.
On a last second lob which would have been incomplete, giving the game to the Broncos, safety Renaldo Hill committed a completely unnecessary facemask on Santonio Holmes at the two yard line. The drive then ended with a touchdown and the Broncos lost the game.
This year features a Jets return to Invesco during Week 11, and fortunately, free agent Renaldo Hill will not be invited to participate. This is an excellent opportunity for the Broncos to exact some warranted revenge.
The San Diego Chargers have been the Broncos' biggest rivals over the last five years. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they've been on the losing end of most games.
Last year the Chargers swept the woeful team, but Tim Tebow's rookie performance was inspiring. This year, the Broncos need to win at least one game against the Chargers to set the tone going forward. This rivalry game used to decide the AFC West's playoff picture, and it is essential that the Broncos do their part to bring it back up.
Recent rivalry matches include the 2008 loss at the end of the regular season which cost the Broncos a shot at the playoffs. It was also the last game in Denver for both Jay Cutler and long-term coach Mike Shanahan. Earlier in the 2008 season, the Broncos topped the Chargers on an extremely controversial call by official Ed Hochuli.
The Broncos haven't beaten the Chargers since the first game of 2009, when they started the season 6-0. This game at home is their best shot at beating the Chargers this year.
The Broncos don't have a bigger all-time rival than the Oakland Raiders. And last year, the Raiders swept Denver.
However, fans can't forget the manner in which the Raiders humiliated the Broncos at home. The final score of 59-14 doesn't do enough to highlight how terrible the Broncos played. The game should have cost Josh McDaniels his job that day. It was the most points the Raiders have ever scored in any game and it was tied for the most points the Broncos have ever allowed.
The silver lining is that the Raiders swept the entire division last season and still missed the playoffs, but that doesn't alleviate the frustration fans felt by losing in that manner to a team that had been the laughing stock of the NFL.
This year, both teams have new head coaches. But for Broncos fans, their biggest rivalry finally has meaning again. The game in Denver is an absolute must win following recent history.
As soon as the schedule came out, every Denver Broncos fan knew this was the biggest game of the year. Actually, anyone with any knowledge of recent events in the NFL knew this was a must watch game; it's all because of one player.
This will be Jay Cutler's second return to Denver since his "demanded" trade to Chicago (he later claimed he did not demand the trade), but the first time he has returned in the regular season. Cutler's career has been a downward spiral of inappropriate behavior coupled with an inexplicable increase in games won. That is while his individual performance has gotten strangely and consistently worse.
Broncos fans recall that Cutler was their first-round pick in 2006, and that clamoring for him to play drove Jake Plummer out of town. Following steady development, Cutler began engaging in outlandish activity. First, he claimed that he had more arm strength than John Elway in an interview. And then he got in a fight with Philip Rivers which the Chargers' quarterback tried to publicly laugh off. Cutler said he took it seriously and actually hated Rivers.
After the team fired Mike Shanahan and brought in Josh McDaniels, Cutler found out that his new coach had listened to trade offers regarding him. He then demanded a trade, and refused to talk to team management for over a month. He was then traded to Chicago, and claimed he hadn't been ignoring management, but rather he hadn't received any calls.
So far while in Chicago, Jay Cutler has redefined the term "interception machine" by throwing 42 in two seasons. His gunslinger attitude has become even riskier, and when the team reached the NFC Title game in spite of him, he took off the second half because of a questionable knee injury drawing more national scrutiny. That scrutiny, based on his attitude and record, was very deserved.
Recently, Jay broke off his engagement with hot actress Kristin Cavallari days after their engagement party. If anyone in sports could take away the idiot title from King James (or Tiger Woods), it would be Cutler.
And Broncos fans would love nothing more than to see him get crushed at Invesco.
This game also has special meaning for quarterback Kyle Orton. He was a throw in for Denver in the 2009 trade, and continues to be one of the most underrated starters in the NFL. Orton will be trying to prove that the Bears were wrong for giving up on him.