The Broncos' regular-season opener isn't for another four months, but over the next few weeks, DenverBroncos.com will take an early look at each game on the Broncos' 2020 schedule. We don't know how injuries could impact each contest, but we'll present the pressing storylines, key players, questions and more.
It's never too early to start talking football.
We begin with Denver's "Monday Night Football" matchup with the Tennessee Titans that will open the 2020 season.
Storylines to monitor:
After an offseason of hype following a 4-1 finish to 2019, the Broncos will be tested early. As they open their season in hopes of returning for the postseason for the first time since 2015, they'll face last year's AFC runner-up. The Titans were an unlikely postseason cinderella, as they beat New England and Baltimore on the road in consecutive weeks behind strong defense and a tremendous rushing attack. The Titans should be right back in the playoff mix in 2020, as they return nearly their entire offense. If the Broncos can earn a win on "Monday Night Football," it could provide an early signal that Vic Fangio's team is ready to compete for a playoff berth. A loss, though, could put the Broncos in an early hole before they move on to play three of their next four games on the road. After an 0-4 start to 2019, it feels like there's little room for error in this Week 1 matchup. So while this matchup doesn't have the same history that a divisional matchup would, it will set an early tone for what's possible this season.
There are individual storylines to watch, as well. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey will make his Denver debut against the team that dealt him for a seventh-round pick this offseason. The five-time Pro Bowler has already tweeted about his excitement for the game, and he could play a major role for a revamped Broncos' defense.
Player to watch:
Derrick Henry drew national attention as he rushed for 182 and 195 yards, respectively, in the Titans' two playoff wins last season. I'm more interested, though, in how Ryan Tannehill performs. The 2019 NFL Comeback Player of the Year saw his first action of last season during the Titans' Week 6 loss to Denver, and he guided the Titans to nine wins in their final 12 games to make the AFC Championship. He didn't have great success last season against the Broncos — we'll touch on that more in a second — but he may present enough of a threat to challenge a new-look secondary in Denver. If Tannehill can apply pressure there, he'll also give Henry more room to run, as Denver won't be able to stack the box in the same fashion. Tannehill's top weapon, A.J. Brown, caught 52 passes for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Will Tannehill and Brown connect enough to pose a problem, or will the Broncos again force the Titans to be one-dimensional?
The question mark:
How far along is the Broncos' offense?
The Broncos are in the midst of their virtual voluntary offseason program, but the team has been unable to hit the field in person as new Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur installs his system. Denver now has the weapons it needs to pump life into an offense that ranked 28th in 2019, but it could be weeks before Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton and Co. are able to practice together in person. When the Broncos and Titans kick off the last matchup of Week 1, Lock and the offense will be in the spotlight. If they can use training camp to their advantage and be ready for the opening week, this matchup becomes considerably easier. But if the Broncos' offense needs a week or two to jell, it will be difficult to move the ball against a Tennessee defense that ranked 12th in points allowed last season. A year ago, the Broncos struggled in the season opener in Oakland as they managed just 72 net yards in the first half and fell behind 14-0. Can they be better this time around? Sutton could give the Broncos an advantage if he can dominate against a Logan Ryan-less secondary.
An opposing view:
Jim Wyatt, senior writer for TennesseeTitans.com, on how he expects the Titans to perform early in the season:
"I think offensively, I expect the Titans to play well. I think if you look at the starting lineup now, as we're speaking in May, I can pretty safely name the 11 starters. … I named Dennis Kelly at right tackle and Isaiah Wilson trying to unseat him there. That's really the only question mark this team has. The rest of the offensive line is set, the receiving corps is set. The running back, quarterback — set. The questions are on defense, and I guess heading into the season, I'm just curious to see how some things play out. They've got to figure out how to move on without Jurrell Casey, who was a great player here. They've got to figure out a way to keep it going without [cornerback] Logan Ryan. [Linebacker] Wesley Woodyard has been a leader even though he was in a reduced role. And they lost Dean Pees, their defensive coordinator from last year, who retired. They're going to go into the season with a new play-caller and some new pieces. How quickly that comes together will go a long way in determining what kind of a start the Titans get off to."
For more from Jim Wyatt on the Titans and the Broncos' Week 1 matchup, click here.
The last meeting:
The Broncos shut out the Titans 16-0 in a swarming defensive performance in Week 6 last season. Denver picked off three passes, forced Marcus Mariota out of the game and held Henry to 28 yards on 15 carries. Tannehill made his first appearance of the season when he entered in the third quarter and completed 13-of-16 passes for 144 yards, but he recorded just a 10.0 QBR as he was sacked four times and threw an interception.
Courtland Sutton led the Broncos in receiving with four catches for 76 yards, but Denver scored just one touchdown as the offense went 2-of-14 on third down.
Denver improved to 2-4 on the season with the win.