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The five most-intriguing games on the Broncos' 2018 schedule

  1. At Kansas City Chiefs — Sunday, Oct. 28, 12 p.m. CDT

The Broncos head into the season with a five-game losing streak against the Chiefs, and Arrowhead Stadium has been particularly unkind to Denver during that stretch. The Chiefs eliminated the Broncos from playoff contention with a 33-10 blowout win at the end of 2016, and things weren't much better in 2017 when the Broncos turned the ball over five times.

The two teams will meet earlier in the year on "Monday Night Football," but this game at the halfway point of the season could answer a lot of questions about the Broncos. And with a new-look roster that includes Patrick Mahomes II, the contest could also shed light on how the next chapter of this rivalry will develop.

4. Los Angeles Chargers — Sunday, Dec. 30, 2:25 p.m. MST

A late-season matchup with a divisional opponent always provides intrigue. Will this be Philip Rivers' final game in Denver or will his career continue into the 2019 season? If he's playing anywhere nearing his best, the Chargers will likely be fighting for — or have locked up — a playoff spot.

Los Angeles has arguably the most-talented roster in the AFC West, and many believe the Chargers will be division favorites in 2018. That would create a good battle at any time of the year, but when you place it in Week 17, it increases the possibility that the Broncos may have to win this one to get back to the postseason.

3. Seattle Seahawks — Sunday, Sept. 9, 2:25 p.m. MDT

In Case Keenum's first start with the Broncos, nothing would be better than to come away with a win against a traditionally powerful opponent led by Russell Wilson. And a good start shouldn't be overstated for the Broncos. It would help wash away the taste of 2017 and help establish momentum for the rest of the season.

Still, there are no guarantees after Week 1 in the NFL. The Broncos' fate over the last two seasons should prove just that. In 2016, the Broncos started 4-0 and finished 9-7. Last year, Denver raced out to a 3-1 start and stumbled down the stretch to finish 5-11.

The Broncos hope the message of accountability that's circulating around the facility will help fix that, and we'll get our first chance to see how that translates to the field on Sept. 9.

For the eighth year in a row, the Broncos will open in front of their home faithful. And against an opponent Broncos fans likely aren't fond of, the atmosphere should be among the best of the season.

2. At San Francisco 49ers — Sunday, Dec. 9, 1:05 p.m. PST

Broncos Ring of Famer John Lynch hasn't relaxed during his second season as the 49ers' general manager. They are yet another team that has seen its share of changes over the last year, as longtime Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman joined the fold this offseason. They'll also add another top-10 pick in next week's NFL Draft.

But the biggest acquisition for the 49ers in quite some time is undoubtedly the trade they executed last season for Jimmy Garoppolo. They've since signed "Jimmy G." to a long-term contract extension, and he's given San Francisco fans a reason to believe the best is yet to come. After taking over in Week 12 last season, he led the 49ers to wins in all five of his starts.

The Broncos, though, may need to get the best of Garoppolo in this game. The Week 14 matchup will likely be critical in the playoff stretch, and a loss may force the Broncos to win the remaining three games on their schedule. That would be a difficult task, given the two matchups against division opponents. A win in Santa Clara, though, could give Denver some breathing room.

1. Los Angeles Rams — Sunday, Oct. 14, 2:05 p.m. MDT

Could there be any other answer? Aqib Talib and Wade Phillips return to Denver for the first time since Talib was traded this offseason and Phillips joined for the Rams following the 2016 season. Both men were key pieces of the Super Bowl 50 team — but they're now in Los Angeles searching for another ring.

Here's what historical trends tell us about the Broncos' 2018 schedule. (Written by Andrew Mason)

With the addition of Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks, the Rams have made it clear they're gunning for a Super Bowl appearance this season. As such, they'll likely provide one of the toughest tests of the season for the Broncos.

How will Talib's play and Phillips' scheme fare against Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Case Keenum? The battles that took place at practice for years are now much more real. Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby will face off against Cooks, Cooper Kupp and the rest of the Rams' offense. Von Miller will try to get the best of third-year quarterback Jared Goff. And Vance Joseph will face a stiff test against the 2017 Coach of the Year, Sean McVay.

If the Broncos can win this emotional reunion, it will certainly mean big things for their playoff hopes. In either event, though, it will provide a highly entertaining game that will likely be FOX's "America's Game of the Week."

Honorable mentions:

At Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. EDT):

The Broncos' road struggles in 2017 were well-documented. They lost their first six games away from home and picked up their lone win on Dec. 14 against a 3-11 Colts team. Head Coach Vance Joseph spoke about the importance of starting fast and eliminating turnovers so that the team could find itself in a fair football game. That rarely happened last year, and this game could provide the first indication of whether the team has turned the corner.

Houston Texans (Sunday, Nov. 4, 2:05 p.m. MST):

This game could have easily made the list. With a roster that includes J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney, there will be no shortage of star power, and it's also a chance for Case Keenum to play against his former team. When Watson was healthy last year, the Texans were a threat to make a run for a playoff spot. If the Broncos are to make their own run this year, this could be one of those toss-up games they need to win. After nine weeks of play, the team will undoubtedly be ready for its Week 10 bye. Can the Broncos find a way to earn a win before heading into the off week?

Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, Nov. 25, 2:25 p.m. MST):

Perhaps more than any other game in 2018, a matchup with the Steelers should provide the Broncos with a measuring stick for where they stand in the AFC. Led by Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh's offense is arguably the league's best. Will a revamped defense be able to stand up to the potent attack? This will also be the Broncos' lone home game over the first four weeks after the bye.




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