Storylines abound in the Broncos' 2015 schedule, which features five prime-time games, including two in consecutive September weeks following a Sunday afternoon opener agains the Baltimore Ravens.
The Broncos avoided the dreaded Week 4 bye that they received last year, and while the Week 7 bye is not perfect for the regular season, it comes at the midpoint of the campaign when including preseason games.
Unlike last year, the home schedule is backloaded. The Broncos play half of their road games before the Week 7 bye, and then alternate home and away games for eight weeks before returning to Sports Authority Field for what could be a crucial six days to end the regular season against the Chargers and Bengals, two of just six teams to defeat the Broncos in the last two seasons.
But there's much more, as a game-by-game breakdown reveals …
NOTING THE MATCHUPS:
WEEK 1: Baltimore Ravens** DATE:Sun., Sept. 13 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MDT - TV:CBS
- Gary Kubiak's first game as Broncos head coach comes against the team whose offense he guided last year.
- This is the second Week 1 game between the teams in the last three years.
- It's the Broncos' first non prime-time regular-season opener since 2010.
- For the first time since 2002, the Broncos have a Week 1 daytime home game. TV contracts and CBS' long-time commitment to the U.S. Open tennis championship in the late-afternoon window usually prevented this since CBS assumed the AFC contract in 1998. Denver opened the 2002 regular season against the Rams on Fox.
WEEK 2: at Kansas City Chiefs
DATE:Thu., Sept. 17 - TIME:6:25 p.m. MDT - TV:CBS/NFLN
- For the second consecutive year, the Broncos and Chiefs meet in prime time at Arrowhead Stadium. The clubs have split their previous four prime-time games there, including Denver's 29-16 win last Nov. 30.
- Peyton Manning is 6-1 all-time in Kansas City, including a 38-31 divisional-round playoff win with Indianapolis on Jan. 11, 2004.
- Denver carries a four-game winning streak at Arrowhead into the season, matching its longest (1976-79). The Broncos have won five of their last six and six of their last eight in Kansas City.
- Kubiak is looking for his first win in Kansas City as a head coach; his Texans lost 17-16 in his only previous trip on Oct. 20, 2013.
WEEK 3: at Detroit Lions
DATE:Sun., Sept. 27 - TIME:6:30 p.m. MDT - TV:NBC
- This caps a three-game start to the season against teams with winning records last year. Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit finished a combined 30-18 last year.
- This will be Manning's first regular-season game at Detroit in over a decade. He guided the Colts to a 41-9 win at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day 2004.
- The Broncos hope for a reversal from the form of their last two games in the series. Detroit dealt Denver two of its four worst regular-season losses of the last decade, delivering a 45-10 thrashing in 2011 and a 44-7 flogging at Ford Field four years earlier.
WEEK 4: Minnesota Vikings** DATE:Sun., Oct. 4 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MDT - TV:FOX
- This is the Vikings' first trip to Denver since the 2007 season finale, and gives the Broncos the first look at the Mike Zimmer-and-Teddy Bridgewater led team that showed promise toward the end of last year.
- Denver has won the last two games in the series, including a 35-32 last-second win at the since-demolished Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Dec. 4, 2011.
- Expect a close game: nine consecutive games in this series have been decided by eight points or fewer. The Broncos' 2007 and 2011 wins ended on field goals from Jason Elam and Matt Prater, respectively.
- This the Broncos' only game currently scheduled to air on Fox, however, cross-flexing could put other games on the network as situations warrant. The 2011 game between the teams was moved to Fox, even though AFC-at-NFC games typically aired on CBS at the time.
WEEK 5: at Oakland Raiders
DATE:Sun., Oct. 11 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MDT - TV:CBS
- The Broncos have won four straight and 10 of their last 12 in Oakland.
- The Broncos are 15-5 at O.co Coliseum since the Raiders returned from Los Angeles in 1995.
- 15 of the last 16 Broncos-Raiders games in Oakland have been decided by at least two scores.
- Denver has averaged 32.3 points per game at Oakland since 2008.
- Derek Carr is the 10th QB to start for the Raiders against the Broncos since 2003.
WEEK 6: at Cleveland Browns
DATE:Sun., Oct. 18 - TIME:11 a.m. MDT - TV:CBS
- The Broncos have won 10 consecutive games in the series since 1990. Their last loss in Cleveland came on Oct. 1, 1989. The Browns won 16-13 in a game marred by fans in Cleveland's "Dawg Pound" end-zone stands throwing items -- including dog biscuits, eggs and batteries -- onto the Municipal Stadium field. That forced referee Tom Dooley to have the teams switch ends in the fourth quarter to get the action away from the rowdy fans. Dooley's decision proved crucial, as Matt Bahr's game-winning field goal barely cleared the crossbar -- with the wind at his back.
- Manning is 6-0 all-time in Cleveland.
- This the the Broncos' first game in Cleveland since 2008. The seven-year gap is due to a quirk of the scheduling rotation, in which the league shifted the pairings of West division teams in each conference to prevent East Coast teams from making two cross-country trips for inter-divisional play in the same year. (To which the eight AFC and NFC West clubs accustomed to flights of three-plus hours say, "Poor them.")
WEEK 7: BYE
- The bye comes three weeks later than it did last year.
- This is the Broncos' seventh Week 7 bye since the respites were added to the schedule in 1990, matching Week 9 for the Broncos' most frequent bye-week point.
WEEK 8: Green Bay Packers
DATE:Sun., Nov. 1 - TIME:6:30 p.m. MST - TV:NBC
- This is the first meeting between Manning and Aaron Rodgers since 2008. Green Bay won that game, 34-14, at Lambeau Field.
- Denver hopes to continue its post-bye mastery. The Broncos have won five consecutive games after bye weeks, and are 20-6 overall after the bye, including 14-3 at home.
- Green Bay holds a three-game winning streak in the series, powered by a 49-23 home romp in 2011 and a 19-13 decision in 2007 that saw Brett Favre hit Greg Jennings for an 82-yard touchdown strike on the first play from scrimmage in sudden death. The Packers have won five of the last six regular-season games between the clubs, but the Broncos won the duel that mattered most in Super Bowl XXXII.
WEEK 9: at Indianapolis Colts** DATE:Sun., Nov. 8 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MST - TV:CBS
- The rematch of last year's divisional-round defeat is expected to be the fourth meeting between Manning and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. It would be the second Manning-Luck game in Indianapolis, where Manning played 14 seasons before being released in 2012. After the emotion of the 2013 game in which the Colts honored Manning with a pre-kickoff tribute, expect this year's build-up to be muted.
- Last year's Week 1 win by the Broncos snapped the Colts' six-game winning streak in the series dating back to the 2004 postseason. But the Colts' 24-13 playoff win extended their recent run to seven wins in the last eight series games and 10 of the last 13 dating back to 2001.
WEEK 10: Kansas City Chiefs
DATE:Sun., Nov. 15 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MST - TV:CBS
- Manning is unbeaten in home games against the Chiefs (8-0, including his years with the Colts).
- No team has ever lost a game in this series in which its quarterback had a rating of 116 or better (Broncos 8-0, Chiefs 11-0).
WEEK 11: at Chicago Bears
DATE:Sun., Nov. 22 - TIME:11 a.m. MST - TV:CBS
- This will be the Broncos' first game against former head coach John Fox, who assumed the Bears' reins four days after he and the Broncos mutually agreed to part ways.
- The Broncos have not lost to a former head coach serving as another team's head coach since the Lou Saban-led Bills hammered the Broncos, 38-14, on Oct. 5, 1975.
- This will also be the Broncos' first game against former starter Jay Cutler, who they traded to Chicago in April 2009. Cutler missed the 2011 game in Denver because of a fractured thumb.
- The teams have split the last two games in the series, both of which went to overtime. Denver's 13-10 win on Dec. 11, 2011 was the team's sixth consecutive win and capped a six-game winning streak that salvaged an 8-8 season from a 2-5 start.
WEEK 12: New England Patriots
DATE:Sun., Nov. 29 - TIME:6:30 p.m. MST - TV:NBC
- At last, the Patriots come to Denver in the regular season. This prime-time duel snaps a streak of three consecutive years in which the Broncos played a regular-season game in Foxborough, Mass. Five of the last seven regular-season games between the clubs were in New England, dating back to 2006.
- If the teams finish in the same places in their respective divisions in 2015, this will be the first of three consecutive years in which the Patriots visit Denver. A 2017 game at Sports Authority Field is already set per the NFL's interdivisional scheduling rotation.
- New England holds a four-game regular-season winning streak in the series, with the Broncos' last non-playoff win coming on Oct. 11, 2009, when the Broncos won 20-17. It was the throwback game to commemorate the 50th season of each club, so both teams wore uniforms matching their 1960 attire.
- Patriots QB Tom Brady is 6-7 all-time against the Broncos, including playoffs.
WEEK 13: at San Diego Chargers** DATE:Sun., Dec. 6- TIME:2:05 p.m. MST - TV:CBS
- As with Kansas City in Week 2, the Broncos look to extend a four-game winning streak at San Diego that is currently the club's longest, matching the four-game run from 1997-2000 at Qualcomm Stadium.
- In the Broncos' first 13 seasons (1960-72), they went 1-12 against the Chargers on the road, including a 1960 game at Los Angeles before the franchise moved down the coast. On Dec. 9, 1973, the Broncos won 42-28 at then-San Diego Stadium to clinch their first winning season and snap a 10-game losing streak there; since then, the Broncos are 22-20 in the Mission Valley.
WEEK 14: Oakland Raiders
DATE:Sun., Dec. 13 - TIME:2:05 p.m. MST - TV:CBS
- The Broncos will look for their fourth consecutive win over the Raiders in Denver after dropping four consecutive home games in the series from 2008-11.
- Despite the Raiders' well-noted struggles this century, the team is a respectable 6-8 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will become the 10th head coach to lead the Raiders into the Broncos' 14-year-old stadium.
- The key number in this series is 140. The Broncos are 17-1 all-time when they rush for 140-plus yards against the Raiders.
WEEK 15: at Pittsburgh Steelers
DATE:Sun., Dec. 20 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MST - TV:CBS
- The afore-mentioned quirk in the schedule (see Browns, Week 6) has kept the Broncos and Steelers from meeting at Heinz Field since 2006, when Denver sprinted past the Steelers 31-20. The shuffled rotation set up the Steelers' 2009 and 2012 trips in the years when the AFC West and AFC North collided, and they also played in Denver in 2007 and during the 2011 postseason.
- This will be the fourth duel between Manning and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Manning's teams won all three regular-season games in which they collided, but Roethlisberger's Steelers won a divisional-round game at Indianapolis 21-18 on Jan. 15, 2006.
- Including postseason, the Broncos played 11 games in Pittsburgh from 1970-97, but the 2006 game is their only trip to the Steel City since then. They will not go that long between trips again if the NFL adheres to its current rotation.
WEEK 16: Cincinnati Bengals
DATE:Mon., Dec. 28 - TIME:6:30 p.m. MST - TV:ESPN
- The Broncos extend their league-best streak of consecutive years with at least one Monday Night Football game to 24 with this game, a rematch of the Bengals' 37-29 MNF win at Paul Brown Stadium last December -- which was also in Week 16.
- This will be the Broncos' 34th MNF home game -- but the first to take place in December. For most of the series' history, the NFL tried to avoid placing cold-weather teams at home in prime time in December, so the Broncos' late-season MNF games wherein Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami and Jacksonville. But the league went away from that trend in the 21st century, leading to matchups like last year's Week 16 game in Cincinnati.
- The Broncos have won nine consecutive home games against the Bengals dating back to 1979. Cincinnati's last win in Denver came 40 years ago -- on Nov. 9, 1975 -- when Paul Brown was still the Bengals' head coach.
- The Broncos and Bengals are two of four teams to make every postseason since 2011. Green Bay and New England, both of which visit Denver in November, are the others.
WEEK 17: San Diego Chargers
DATE:Sun., Jan. 3, 2016 - TIME:2:25 p.m. MST - TV:CBS
- The Broncos have won three of their last four vs. Chargers (including postseason) at home after losing five out of six from 2006-11.
- The Broncos close with the Chargers for the first time since the 2010 season. They finished the regular season against the Chiefs in 2011 and 2012, and against the Raiders in the two seasons that followed.
- Philip Rivers has more wins (six) at Sports Authority Field than any non-Broncos QB; before Rivers' arrival, San Diego had won just five of its previous 37 games in Denver.
- The Broncos will conclude their regular season at home for the sixth time in the last seven seasons and the eighth in the last 10.