The Broncos' final few games of the 2022 schedule will be a difficult test — and that's perfectly fine with Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett.
In an extensive interview on "The Neutral Zone," the Broncos' official podcast hosted by Phil Milani and Aric DiLalla, Hackett said the final stretch would help prepare his team for a potential postseason run.
The challenging run of games begins in Week 13 with a trip to Baltimore. Denver then hosts the Chiefs and the Cardinals before heading on the road to play the Rams and Chiefs. The Broncos will finish their season with a Week 18 game against the Chargers.
"To be able to go against the best teams in the NFL is what you're looking for," Hackett said on the podcast. "It's about being battle-tested, being able to find out where you are, what you need to do, how you need to improve, every single time. Because in the end, it's how you play December football. You've got to be ready for December football, and starting with the Chiefs — really, Baltimore — and then all those games in December and into January now with this 17th game. But I mean, I think that's how you've got to be peaking at that right time. Everybody wants to start fast, everybody wants it to be great in the beginning. But I mean, we've all got to understand it's about how you finish. In the end, that's what it is. That's how you challenge the guys, because it's about playoffs, it's about how you enter there, how you're feeling there and how you keep rolling."
Against the Chiefs, in particular, Hackett said he wants his team to embrace the opportunity to snap a 13-game losing streak.
"It's a new everything here right now, so it's a fresh start for everybody," Hackett said. "For us, it's a prime-time game. That's going to be unbelievably exciting, to see Patrick Mahomes-Russell Wilson, two great defenses, two great offenses. And it's about going out there and executing. Then we'll have the fans behind us because it's going to be a home game, which makes it even more exciting, because I know those night games can get a little wild. That's what we need. We need everybody. It's not just us. It's the whole crew, it's the fans, it's everybody in the building. We've just got to be on the same page. And, like I said, one week at a time, and that week we'll see what our matchups are and be sure to get after them."
Hackett's insight didn't stop there, though. Here's a look at some of his best comments from his appearance on the show:
The Broncos have struggled at home in recent years, and Hackett knows there's only one cure to bring back the advantage Denver has previously held at Empower Field at Mile High.
"Winning," Hackett said. "Showing a great product out on the field, showing cohesiveness, showing the guys celebrating together, showing the guys playing for each other. Those are the things that you have to do. That's what brings teams together to be able to get through those hard times, because you look even just at a game and you might not do great in the first quarter. The idea is do great in the fourth quarter. Whatever you have to do to win the game. And at home, it's such a great advantage. This stadium, these fans. It's unbelievable. I remember playing here in, I believe it was '14. The place was shaking. We have to take advantage of that. When you have a crowd that's rolling with you, you get those smart crowds that know when to be quiet and when to be extra loud, it's difficult for the opponent. I think that this is something so that we can utilize that. And we've just got to win. In the end, this game's about winning and that's what we've got to do."
The Broncos won't waste any time getting set for Russell Wilson's homecoming trip to Seattle — and Hackett said there are benefits to getting the game out of the way early.
"The great thing is Russell, he's very mentally strong," Hackett said. "I think that he knew this was going to happen at some point. It's almost like it's good that it's happening early. But I think it's just going to be an exciting time. It's, 'Here's this new team that he's a part of,' and we get to rally around him and support him where he had a lot of success. And I think that it's one of those things — just be there for him. Be there for him, get a great plan for him, get him fired up and excited to be able to play within himself and do what Russell does."
The Broncos will take on the Rams on Christmas Day, and Hackett spoke about both traveling on the holiday and his favorite Christmas movies.
"The good thing about Santa is he can travel anywhere," Hackett said. "He can show up a little early, show up a little later. He knows, he sees everything. But from a movie standpoint, I would say, gosh, my kids watch 'Home Alone' a whole bunch. 'Home Alone' is big. You've got 'Christmas Vacation,' which is a favorite. 'Elf' — I mean, who doesn't love Will Ferrell. I'm a big movie guy so during Christmas, we have a rule in our staff room: The TV has to be on classic movies all the time. So that Christmas time is always the best because you get all those great [movies] — 'Jingle All The Way,' all those good ones. But no, it's going to be fun to be out there. The Rams are the defending champions, and to be able to play them on Christmas Day, it's an honor. It's exciting, but the guys are going to have to step up to a big challenge, and it's going to be fun."