5 Key Games on the Denver Broncos 2011-2012 Schedule
The 2011-2012 Denver Broncos are looking to rebound from a 4-12 record; their worst season in over 10 years.
Most fans are unsure what to expect this season. Will the defense improve? Does the quarterback situation clear up? Can the running game return to form?
Do the Broncos have any chance of making the playoffs? Here are 5 key games on the upcoming schedule that will tell fans if the team is returning to contention.
Week 1 vs. Oakland Raiders
Broncos fans will get a solid test of the new team right away. The Oakland Raiders went 6-0 within the AFC West in 2010-2011, including a 59-14 shellacking of the Broncos in Denver.
The Raiders lost All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to free agency, but they were able to re-sign key free agents Michael Bush and Khalif Barnes.
Last year, the Denver defense was unable to stop the Oakland running game as the Raiders rolled up nearly 600 rushing yards in the two contests combined. The Raiders averaged a whopping 6.4 yards per rush vs. the Broncos.
Bronco fans should find out a lot about this season's Denver Broncos in Week 1. This should be a physical game won at the line of scrimmage. It will set the tone for the new season.
Week 5 vs. San Diego Chargers
Is there a quarterback in the league who Broncos fans dislike more than San Diego signal caller Phillip Rivers? (Okay, maybe one. More on that later.)
Rivers' trash talking certainly hasn't endeared him to the Denver masses. Of course, his 8-3 record against the Broncos as a starter hasn't helped either.
Rivers will return to Denver in Week 5 without speedster Darren Sproles for the first time, but the Chargers return Rivers' favorite targets Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd. Running backs Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert should again get most of the carries.
The Chargers also picked up inside linebacker Takeo Spikes, who leaves the 49ers in hopes of further strengthening an improved Chargers defense.
San Diego is looking to rebound from missing the playoffs last season. The Chargers are notoriously slow starters; Denver may be hosting them at the right time to steal a win.
A win here would give this group some much needed confidence.
Week 10 at Kansas City Chiefs
The Broncos will travel to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 10 to face the defending AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The Broncos managed to beat Kansas City 49-29 last season in Denver, but fell at Kansas City 10-6.
The Chiefs boasted the league's top rated rushing offense last year with running back Jamaal Charles averaging 6.4 yards per carry. However, the passing game has struggled, and the Chiefs have signed free-agent wide receiver Steve Breaston in hopes of giving quarterback Matt Cassel another viable target.
To be an improved team, the Broncos will have to find ways to win on the road. Arrowhead has not been kind to the Broncos, as they have lost eight out of their last 10 games there.
This will be a big test for this team.
Week 14 vs. Chicago Bears
This game may be more personal to Broncos fans than any other game on the schedule. The return of Jay Cutler to Denver promises to be must-see television.
After spending three roller-coaster seasons in Denver, Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears following the 2008 season. Cutler had his highs in Denver (setting single-season passing records for passing yards, completions and attempts) and he saw lows as well (34-34 win loss record as a starter).
His antics during the Bears NFC Championship game loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers were watched gleefully by many Broncos fans.
The Bears should be playoff bound once again and the local fans in Denver will be at a fever pitch when Cutler takes the field.
If the Broncos can somehow ruin Cutler's return to Denver, the fans in Denver will let the home team know their appreciation.
Week 15 vs. New England Patriots
If you want to run with the big dogs, you have to beat the big dogs. The New England Patriots have a chance to be one of the top teams yet again in the AFC.
The Patriots went 14-2 last year before losing to the New York Jets 28-21 in the AFC Divisional Playoff game.
The Patriots have some holes on the defensive side of the ball, but on paper this game shouldn't be close. Yet the Broncos always seem to play very well against New England. The Broncos have beaten the Patriots six out of the last eight meetings, including a last-second win in 2009 under Josh McDaniels.
If the Broncos can give the Patriots a battle, then they have clearly made marked improvement under John Fox.
The AFC West is up for grabs this season. Notable improvement may give the Broncos a chance to make a run at winning it.