ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' 2020 schedule was announced Thursday evening, and while the coaches and players may have to take one game at a time, we certainly don't.
As they prepare for a Week 1 "Monday Night Football" matchup with the Tennessee Titans, we're free to look ahead and project which are the most intriguing games on the Broncos' 16-game slate.
Here's our best guess at which games will be the must-see matchups of the year — and for a more in-depth look at the Broncos' 2020 schedule, click here.
5. Week 10, Broncos at Raiders
The attention in Denver has been on the Broncos' offseason additions, butthe Raiders have made strides, too. Ahead of their first season in Las Vegas, the Raiders signed linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and also added tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Nelson Agholor. They then added a pair of first-round picks in April's NFL Draft, so it's clear Jon Gruden's squad will be more talented than the 2019 version. Last year, the Broncos and Raiders were neck and neck for most of the year. Whichever team gains the head-to-head edge in this Week 12 matchup could be in line for a wild-card berth. And that's all without mentioning the state-of-the-art stadium the Raiders will be opening this fall.
4. Week 11, Broncos vs. Chargers
It remains to be seen how competitive the Chargers will be in 2020. Their defense seems set up to be dominant, but this league revolves around the quarterback position. Whether Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert is under center when the Broncos host the Chargers remains to be seen, but the more intriguing storylines may come when Denver's offense is on the field. Melvin Gordon III will face his former team for the first time since he signed with the Broncos this offseason. Then, of course, there's Chris Harris Jr.'s return to Denver. The former undrafted free agent spent nine years in Denver, earned four Pro Bowl berths and was named to the NFL's All-Decade team. Harris seems likely to end up in the Broncos' Ring of Fame someday, but on this Sunday, Broncos fans will want Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy to have their way against Harris. The always competitive cornerback should hold his own, which could make this one of the best individual matchups of the year.
3. Week 12, Broncos vs. Saints
Emmanuel Sanders played with visible emotion during his six seasons in Denver. The new Saints wide receiver may be even more fired up when he returns to the Broncos' home field for the first time since being traded last season to the 49ers. He'll face an unfamiliar cornerback group, but it's possible he could get up jawing at either Kareem Jackson or Justin Simmons. The Broncos drew a tough inter-conference slate, as the Saints are expected to be among the league's contenders for a Super Bowl title. If the Broncos are to pull an upset, though, it seems more likely to come in Denver than in New Orleans. With Drew Brees under center and Michael Thomas and Sanders lined up outside, the Saints will be a tough offense to stop. There could be plenty of points on the board for both teams on this day in Denver.
2. Week 3, Broncos vs. Buccaneers
Welcome back, Tom. After a two-year hiatus, the Broncos will again host Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski at Empower Field at Mile High. They're just both wearing different jerseys this time around. Plus, Shaquil Barrett returns to Denver for the first time since leading the NFL in sacks in 2019. This game, which starts at 2:25 p.m. MT and airs on FOX, seems like a candidate to be "America's Game of the Week." That would put the Broncos in households across the country and give the nation some exposure to Drew Lock and Denver's offensive weapons. If Jeudy and KJ Hamler need a couple of weeks to adjust to the NFL, perhaps this is the week they break out. And because this is an early season matchup, it seems like the Broncos should have a decent chance to earn a win. The Broncos struggled at home early last season, but they've traditionally been dominant at home in September.
1. Week 13: Broncos at Chiefs
The Broncos have plenty of opportunities to make a statement in 2020, but none are bigger than this game. Regardless of whether the Broncos snap the Chiefs' nine-game win streak in Week 7, this game — on national television on "Sunday Night Football" — is a chance for Denver to prove it's closer to Kansas City than people think. A win would be nice — great, even — but the Broncos also need to prove they can be competitive in Arrowhead Stadium. Over the last four seasons, the Broncos have kept the game within one score on just one occasion. In an ideal world — with apologies to the Denver defense — this turns into a shootout between a pair of young quarterbacks and we remember it as one of the best games of the season. We just hope there's no snow this time around.
Week 1, Broncos vs. Titans
- It's hard to leave this one off the list, as it's the season opener and it's against a team from last year's AFC Championship game. Right away, Drew Lock and the offense will get a chance to show where they stack up in the AFC. And defensively, Fangio's new-look unit will be tested by perhaps the most punishing running back in the game in Derrick Henry.
Week 2, Broncos at Steelers
- Much like Denver's game against the Titans, this game should be a litmus test. With Ben Roethlisberger back, the Steelers should be in the hunt for a wild-card berth in 2020. This game is in Week 2, but the Broncos may look back late in the year and point to this matchup as one that shaped the playoff race.
Week 5, Broncos at Patriots
- Brady and Gronkowski may be gone, but this game should give Broncos fans an indication at how the team will face adversity. As the second game on a two-game east coast road swing, the Broncos will need to be mentally tough to earn a win — and to avoid the foghorn at Gillette Stadium from going off too much.