A year after going through one of five toughest schedules in the NFL, the Broncos' scheduling fortunes will be flipped in 2021 — and especially so after the league added a 17th game to each team's schedule.
With the addition of the Lions to the Broncos' slate, Denver's opponents have a 47.1% win percentage based on their 2020 records. That's tied for the fifth-easiest schedule, as NFL.com noted.
That ranking had improved over the previous strength-of-schedule ratings that were calculated based on the 16-game schedule. At that point, the Broncos had the ninth-easiest slate.
In the decision to add a 17th game, the NFL outlined how those new matchups would be set. In these inter-conference battles, teams would be paired with an opponent who finished in the same spot in their division in the opposite conference. So the Broncos, who finished last in the AFC West, were matched with the Lions, who finished last in the NFC North with a 5-11 record.
While the Broncos' strength of schedule fell because of the Lions' 2020 record, other teams were not so fortunate. The Giants, a 6-10 team in 2020, were paired with the Dolphins, who finished 2020 at 10-6. As a result, New York's strength of schedule fell from fourth- to eighth-easiest. The Colts suffered a similar fate, and they'll now host the defending Super Bowl champions.
Though what will decide the Broncos' success in 2021 will ultimately be the team's talent and cohesion, strength of schedule can help decide a team's chances to make the postseason.
Of the five teams that entered the 2020 season with the weakest strength of schedules based off of 2019 records, all but one made the playoffs. Of the seven teams with the five toughest schedules (there was a three-way tie at No. 5), only two earned a postseason bid.
It'll be up to the Broncos to actually get the wins, but the strength of schedule could bode well for their postseason hopes.
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Hot off the news of Justin Fields' impressive pro-day showing on Tuesday, NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund projected the Ohio State quarterback for the Broncos in her newest mock draft. "If the team wants to add a first-round QB, Fields is a fit," Frelund wrote.