Flip through the Broncos' 2015 schedule one game at a time with looks at each team's feature players.
- The later bye week is key
Last year the Broncos' bye week came early, setting the team up for a Week 4 break followed by 13 consecutive weeks of games. This year's bye comes much closer to splitting the schedule, with six games before the break. The bye will provide a nice reprieve after spending four of the five weeks prior on the road, as well as let the Broncos prepare with an extra week for the Packers, who remain much the same as the roster they had last year that nearly took down the Seahawks in the NFC Championship. In regards to general health, being able to split the schedule like this just helps keep the players from accumulating a ton of attrition in consecutive weeks.
2. The timing of the Broncos' Week 8 and 9 opponents
Peyton Manning passed Brett Favre for the NFL's career passing touchdowns record last year with No. 509 coming against the 49ers, and this year Manning could pass Favre again in another passing record. Manning currently sits at No. 2 in the NFL's all-time passing yardage marks with 2,147 fewer yards than Favre. This could set up Manning to break that record, if he passes for an average of about 307 yards in each of those games and against Green Bay. If it takes another week (an average of 268.4 passing yards in first seven games), then he would hit the mark against his former team. In addition, if the Broncos happen to be undefeated at that time, Manning would tie Favre's mark for career wins in Week 8 and break it in Week 9. Never a dull storyline.
3. Five nationally televised games showcase big matchups
The Broncos will be mainstays on the big networks for their biggest games, beginning with a Week 2 Thursday night showdown with the Chiefs, who made a big free agency move to get Jeremy Maclin. A healthier Chiefs defense with a bigger spark in their wide receiver corps could make them more dangerous, though the Broncos probably won't be too disappointed that their early visit to Kansas City won't have last year's bitterly cold and windy weather.
The following week the Broncos head to Detroit for Sunday Night Football. Calvin Johnson will test the Broncos' secondary as few receivers can, but the cornerback duo of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. could give him trouble. The tough early back-to-back road games will be an early challenge.
The Broncos return to the limelight for the aforementioned game against the Packers. Beyond the intriguing notes above, this will be Aaron Rodgers' first game in Denver.
Then Denver will host New England in Week 12 on NBC Sunday Night Football to cap the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The reigning Super Bowl champs will have a revamped secondary, but by that time of the season, Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff might have figured out a way to compensate for the loss of Darrelle Revis back to the Jets. The Broncos last beat New England in the regular season in 2009.
As the season winds down, the Broncos' final nationally televised game will be on Monday Night Football against the Bengals, just like last year, except on the Broncos' turf. The Bengals have the second-hardest schedule, and this will be the Broncos' 24th consecutive season with a Monday Night Football game, which is the longest active streak.
4. Homefield advantages and road difficulties
During the 2014 regular season, the Broncos went undefeated at home before the passionate Mile High fans. They'll hope to do the same this year and though the difficulty ramps up at home—visiting teams had an overall winning percentage of 56 percent in 2014—those teams' success fell considerably on the road to win just 42 percent of those games.
Meanwhile, the road holds big challenges. Away teams combined to have a lower winning percentage based on their 2014 records than the Broncos' challengers at home, but the teams the Broncos will visit defend their home stadiums well. The away opponents won 60.5 percent of their home games, beating out the NFL's 2014 league average of 56.6 percent.
5. Reuniting with old friends and foes
This season's schedule is chock full of games against familiar opponents, either in team or in the individuals.
The Ravens—Head Coach Gary Kubiak's old team, as well as a few others on the coaching staff and Darian Stewart's, too—is first up for the Broncos in Week 1.
When the Broncos go to Cleveland in Week 6, safety T.J. Ward will play his former team.
In Week 9, Denver will go to Indianapolis, where they'll face the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year in the divisional round. Going on the road to face the Colts also gives Peyton Manning the opportunity to make a first in his career—winning in Indianapolis on the visiting team. The Broncos offense will face a familiar face in Nate Irving, too.
The Broncos will play against teams coached by members of their previous coaching staff both within the division and outside it. The Raiders are coached by former Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, and the Bears have former Head Coach John Fox and Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase.
The Patriots are also a team the Broncos are quite familiar with, and Peyton Manning, too, with the always-heralded Manning-Brady matchup. And Emmanuel Sanders will face his old team, the Steelers, in Week 16 as they travel back to his old stomping grounds in Pittsburgh.
There will be plenty of interesting stories prefacing each game, not just the customary anticipation that goes with plenty of outstanding matchups.