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Broncology: So We Meet Again

Posted Nov 2, 2003


In October 1995, the Broncos throttled the New England Patriots 37-3. It wasn't exactly the most earth-shaking of victories; it came in a game pitting two teams who would finish out of the playoffs and at .500 or worse that season.

But the game represented the beginning of one of the odder scheduling occurrences in Broncos history -- the constant presence of the Patriots on the Broncos' schedule, and vice versa. Rarely have two non-division opponents played so often since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.

Monday night, the Broncos and Patriots meet for the ninth consecutive regular season, matching the consecutive pairings of Atlanta Falcons-Dallas Cowboys (1985-93), Houston Oilers-Kansas City Chiefs (1988-96) and the Cleveland Browns-Seattle Seahawks (1977-85). That makes Broncos-Patriots the fourth-longest annual interdivision rivalry since the merger, and the second-longest in the AFC behind Pittsburgh Steelers-San Diego Chargers (1987-96).

The longest in the NFL of the past 33 years? That distinction belongs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, who met on an annual basis from 1981 to 1992 -- 12 consecutive seasons. Their recurrence on each other's schedules was due primarily to the fact that the Bucs were perennial last-place finishers in the five-team NFC Central -- finishing in the cellar six times in that stretch -- and in those days, the last-place clubs from the five-team divisions faced each club from the four-team division in their conference, as well as their fellow last-place finisher. That was why the Broncos had a home-and-home series with -- of all teams -- New England during the 1991 season.

The Seahawks and Bengals also played in 12 consecutive years, meeting from 1984-95. However, the teams' 1988 clash was in the divisional round of the playoffs.

12 Tampa Bay-New Orleans 1981-92
10 Green Bay-L.A./St. Louis Rams 1988-97
9 Denver-New England 1995-2003
9 Atlanta-Dallas 1985-93
9 Cleveland-Seattle 1977-85
9 Atlanta-Dallas 1985-93
9 Houston-Kansas City 1988-96
8 St. Louis-New Orleans 1980-87
8 Atlanta-Detroit 1983-90

Denver also comes into Monday night's game with New England coming off of two consecutive road losses. Is that the start of a negative trend, or the precursor to a victory? In the nine seasons of the Mike Shanahan era in Denver, it's almost always been the lead-in to a triumph.

Since 1995, the Broncos are 5-1 in games that followed two road losses in two weeks. The most recent recurrence of this trend came last December, when the Broncos followed road losses to San Diego and the New York Jets by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 31-24. The next most recent was two years ago, when the home opponent was the same as tonight. Denver beat New England 31-20 on Oct. 28, 2001, a win that came immediately after road losses to the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers. Denver's only home defeat following back-to-back road losses came four years ago, when the Jets beat the Broncos 19-13 after a two-week road trip with defeats at Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

New England has also been on the losing end of this trend on one other occasion during the Shanahan era -- in 1995, when the Broncos defeated them 37-3 in Massachusetts. The trend has endured throughout the Broncos' NFL history; overall, the team is 12-5-1 in games played the week after after consecutive road defeats -- including 3-0 against the Patriots.