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Mile High Morning: Looking ahead to the best matchups on the Broncos' 2021 schedule

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The Lead

With free agency and the draft behind us, it's time for the next big annual checkpoint on the NFL offseason slate: the schedule release. We will learn the specifics of the Broncos' 2021 regular-season schedule on Wednesday, but for now, we do already know who they'll play this year.

So, as we await the week-by-week plan, let's take a look at some of the matchups I'm looking forward to the most.

A shot at the defending division champs

Broncos fans already know the frustrating state of affairs as it pertains to the rivalry with the hated Chiefs: a skid of 11 straight losses with the last Broncos win coming in 2015. Now, that said, when that run is broken, it's going to an incredible feeling — and there's no reason it can't be this year. The last matchup, a 22-16 loss at Arrowhead, shows there's perhaps not as great a divide between the two teams as there once was. With an offense growing in a second season in the same scheme and a healthy Courtland Sutton, as well as a defense that should have one of the best secondaries in the league and a healthy Von Miller-Bradley Chubb pairing, Denver could be in the best shape to get back in the win column against Kansas City, which has now won the AFC West division title in five straight seasons.

Ready for the rookies

With matchups against the Jaguars, Jets, Eagles and Bengals on the docket, the Broncos are set to face off against some of the most electric offensive talent from the 2021 NFL Draft. The Broncos and their veteran-laden defense will do their best to frustrate quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, while the secondary in particular — and Broncos first-rounder Pat Surtain II — will be tested by receivers like Ja'Marr Chase and 2020 Heisman winner DeVonta Smith.

A matchup with the 2019 MVP

The last time the Broncos played the Ravens, a rookie Lamar Jackson saw just two snaps as Joe Flacco led Baltimore to victory as the starter. Later that year, Jackson took the reins as the starter and helped the Ravens end 2019 on a 7-1 run. The following season, in his first year as Baltimore's full-time starter, Jackson threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns, ran for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns and earned league MVP honors. His 2020 season may have been a slight step back from that achievement, but he still profiles as one of the most electrifying players in the NFL. No matter when the Broncos face off against the Ravens, this should be one of the best matchups.

A duel in Dallas

With Dak Prescott on track to play in 2021 after the gruesome ankle injury that ended his 2020 season, the Cowboys should again be in position to contend — and with their high-powered offense (they ranked second in points scored during Prescott's five games), the Broncos will have their hands full. Defensively, the Cowboys have one of the top defensive rookies in Micah Parsons too.

Below the Fold

ESPN has one of the cooler post-draft reaction stories that I've seen, as they asked a number of college football coaches about how the 2021 NFL Draft unfolded. One thing that surprised an offensive coordinator from a Power 5 school was that Surtain was the second cornerback off the board. "I was shocked Surtain was the not the first corner taken," they told ESPN's Adam Rittenberg. "He was an eraser."

Looking ahead to the next NFL Draft (yes, already!), Todd McShay has put together his first mock draft for 2022. After his final mock for 2021 predicted a quarterback for Denver, it should come as little surprise that he envisions one for the Broncos next year. "You need an elite QB in the passer-happy AFC West, and I think the Broncos could be looking for one next April," McShay wrote. "[Spencer] Rattler gives them a potential franchise guy at the position."

The Unclassifieds

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