ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The beginning of the Broncos' 2020 schedule is by no means a cakewalk.
The Broncos will welcome the Tennessee Titans, who made the AFC Championship game last season, to Empower Field at Mile High to start the year.
"They're a good football team, and they proved that last year," President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway told Phil Milani. "[Ryan] Tannehill's coming back with another year under his belt, so he'll feel comfortable with that. I think him starting the last two-thirds of the season, he got very comfortable there. So, I'm sure that he'll be ready to go, comfortable with his teammates and those types of things. So, we're going to have our hands full. They're a different team than a lot of teams in the NFL, and they still like to pound it and run the football and play good defense, too.
"… Thank God it's at home. We're better off at home, so we'll have the support of the fans."
Denver will then play at Pittsburgh, at home vs. Tampa Bay and at the New York Jets on a short week on "Thursday Night Football."
"Any time you're in the NFL, it's not going to be an easy schedule," Elway said. "It's always going to be a little bit more difficult, but I think we have two national games in the first four weeks, so we're going to get to show off what we have and hopefully we'll be ready to go and play well in those games."
After an 0-4 start to the 2019 season, the Broncos will be focused on improving out of the gate in 2020. Three of those four losses were by one score, and a pair of them came at the hands of an opponent's game-winning field goal.
"I think any game you play a good football team, like the Tennessee Titans when you're opening it up on Monday night, it's always tough, especially with a young football team," Elway said. "But, you know what, it is what it is. So, we're going to have to deal with that and figure out how to get it done and play well in that first one and hopefully get a victory. With the way things started last year, we started 0-4 and had those two tough losses, and so I think that everyone saw how important it is to get off to a good start. So that's why it's going to be so important we play well early."
Head Coach Vic Fangio said the continuity on the defensive side of the football should help the Broncos be prepared for those early games, despite the current implementation of a virtual offseason program.
"We will have some continuity on the defensive side of the ball, although we will be incorporating some new players there that will hopefully help us improve," Fangio told Matt Boyer. "Offensively, we are undertaking a new offensive system. There will be some carry-over to it. So, offensively the continuity isn't quite there as it will be on the defensive side. The other teams in our division, obviously Kansas City is returning most of their team, all their coaching staff, so they have a good bit of continuity, whereas the Raiders and Chargers are returning their coaching staffs, but they do have some new players, too, that they're going to be incorporating. Obviously the Chiefs are in the best shape, as it relates to that, but the other three of us are catching up there."
Fangio said all three divisional opponents will present difficult matchups for the Broncos in 2020.
"Obviously you start with the Chiefs, and they've been the top team in the division for several years now," Fangio said. "They're going to be a tough opponent, both home and away, there — we play them once in the middle, once kind of towards the end. I think the Chargers this year, they were a team that was 12-4 in '18 and then, last year, had a tough season with a lot of close losses. I think they're closer to being a 12-4 team than the team they were last year. I think they'll be vastly improved. And I think the Raiders are definitely improving. They improved last year from 2018 to 2019. This will be the third year of Jon [Gruden] being there and they're bearing the fruits of the trade they made early on to try to stockpile draft picks. So, they're going to be a much better team also. So, I think our division is one of the tougher divisions in the league."
Fangio, though, said he only takes so much from the schedule when it is released. A lot of the matchups — whether they're early in the season like the tests against the Titans and Steelers or late in the year like Denver's divisional games — will look different the week of the game.
"When you look at a schedule, it's really not who you play and when you play it," Fangio said. "It's a matter of the teams — what kind of status are they when you play them? When you look at a schedule, it's hard to predict what it will look like. For instance, last year, Detroit was off to a pretty good start and then they lost their quarterback, [Matthew] Stafford, and we played Detroit late in the year with their third-string quarterback in there. So those are the things that end up making a schedule advantageous or not — what's your injury situation, what's the team you're playing's injury situation — more so than looking at it here in May and trying to draw some conclusions."
For now, though, that's all we can do. And as we look ahead, it's clear the first month of the season will play a major role in determining the Broncos' playoff fate.
For a complete look at the Broncos' 2020 schedule, click here.