The Denver Broncos have known for a few months which opponents they'd be facing in the fall — they just didn't know the order. The NFL solved that question mark for the Broncos, releasing the full 2020 regular-season schedule on Thursday.
With Denver's 2020 opponents combining for a .512 winning percentage last year, the Broncos will rank No. 12 in strength of schedule. As you'll see, there are some tough matchups on the docket but 12th is a far cry from and vast improvement over last year's second-toughest strength of schedule.
While we still haven't seen the 2020 Broncos hit the field for even an OTA or mini-camp thanks to lockdowns across the country still largely in effect, that doesn't mean we can't put on our prognosticator's hat and make a few predictions. I might not have a crystal ball but with no current football events to really analyze and cover, why not try my hand at a way-too-early record prediction for the Broncos?
As I do each year, I'll predict the schedule in the spring and then do so again in August after we've seen how the team shapes up in training camp, as well as what develops for the opponents on the schedule. Going game-by-game, I'll render a pick with a little analysis to justify my selection. Without further ado.
Week 1: vs. Tennessee Titans (MNF) | Win
The Titans are a vastly different team than the one the Joe Flacco-led Broncos vanquished in Week 6 of last season. But then again, so are the Broncos. While I could see this one going either way, because this matchup is at home, I'm picking the Broncos to come out on top in a closely-fought, down-to-the-wire Conference throw-down.
Week 2: at Pittsburgh Steelers | Loss
With Ben Roethlisberger expected back, I'm picking the Steelers to win this one but his presence in the lineup is the main justification for why. The Broncos have struggled to win at Heinz Field in recent years and the Steelers are simply a different squad when Big Ben is under center. I see this one as being a bit of a shoot-out with the home team persevering.
Week 3: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Win
Tom Brady returns to the Mile High City, where he has traditionally struggled over the years. When I say struggled, it's not as if Brady has never won at Mile High Stadium but there's something about the location, the fans, the altitude, and the ambiance that confounds him. There's no guarantee Brady is going to hit it off with Bruce Arians. And that Bucs defense doesn't scare anyone. Drew Lock goes toe-to-toe with one of the GOATs and wins.
Week 4: at New York Jets (TNF) | Win
It's a short turnaround on Thursday Night and an East Coast game to boot, but the Jets simply don't have enough talent yet to keep up with a Broncos' offense absolutely bristling with explosiveness. The last time Denver played at MetLife Stadium, Sam Darnold and the Jets embarrassed them. But that was with a different QB and coach. Lock and the offense put on a show, even on the road.
Week 5: at New England Patriots | Loss
If this game were in Denver, I'd likely be picking it differently sitting here in May. But even though New England's starting QB is significantly less proven than Darnold in New York is, there's a monumental gap in coaching acumen — a chasm — between Bill Belichick and Adam Gase. Belichick's defense will play smart, disciplined football and outsmart Lock and company. It's also the second consecutive East Coast trip and this time it gets the best of Denver. Broncos fall on the road at Foxboro in a close one.
Week 6: vs. Miami Dolphins | Win
There's a good chance the Broncos will get to see No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa in this game and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it unfolds. At the end of the day, though, the Dolphins are still woefully thin talent-wise. A bonafide franchise QB can cover a lot of those holes but I'm not convinced by Week 6 that things will have slowed down enough for Tua to rise above and win at Mile High. Broncos step on the Dolphins by double-digits.
Week 7: vs. Kansas City Chiefs | Win
By this point, some of you might be thinking I'm being homeristic but if there's a single bold prediction in this schedule/record speculation, it's this; the Broncos will split with the Chiefs in 2020. And if they're to split with Kansas City, it makes sense that the 'W' would come in Denver, no? Obviously, I could be categorically wrong on this but sitting here in May, I'm taking Lock in his first head-to-head with Patrick Mahomes in Denver. Broncos indeed fight fire with fire and win by a single score.
Week 8: Bye
The Broncos get their bye about as close to the true mid-way point as possible. This was a fortuitous blessing by the schedule makers.
Week 9: at Atlanta Falcons | Win
Like the Broncos, the Falcons are coming off a 7-9 finish but by this point in the season, they'll be pretty banged up and still one week removed from their bye. Meanwhile, the Broncos are traveling to the East Coast yet again but they're doing so fully recharged coming out of their bye. Lock and company are too much for Dan Quinn's defense and Denver wins.
Week 10: at Las Vegas Raiders | Loss
It might seem counterintuitive that I'm picking the Broncos to improve enough to split with the Chiefs but not enough to avoid splitting with the Raiders. But there's something about these Raiders' matchups that always end up being way stiffer than they appear on paper. In their first trip to Allegiant Stadium in Vegas, the Broncos come up short in a game replete with mental lapses and turnovers.
Week 11: vs. Los Angeles Chargers | Win
Meanwhile, I see the Broncos sweeping the Chargers this year. Justin Herbert doesn't scare me, nor does Tyrod Taylor. That L.A. defense is legit but if all the dominoes fall the way the Broncos hope they will offensively, this is going to be a tough unit to defend against, even with all the top-notch defensive backs in the world.
Week 12: vs. New Orleans Saints | Loss
This game will serve as a sort of litmus test for Lock and the Broncos but unless Father Time evidently claims Drew Brees in 2020, this will be a tough, tough opponent to beat, even at home. The Broncos get smacked in the mouth at home and fall to an NFC foe, which isn't the end of the world.
Week 13: at Kansas City Chiefs (SNF) | Loss
Mahomes and company get their revenge for the Broncos stealing their first win vs. the Chiefs since Week 2 of the 2015 season. Arrowhead Stadium in December is a tough proposition, as Lock learned last year. Broncos fall to the Chiefs on the road, losing two in a row.
Week 14: at Carolina Panthers | Win
In a get-right game, despite it being on the East Coast, the Broncos roll into Carolina and put the smackdown on Teddy Bridgewater and Colorado's own Christian McCaffrey. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb feast on Bridgewater while Lock and company flex their might with an eye on the postseason.
Week 15: vs. Buffalo Bills | Win
The Broncos lost to the Bills in upstate New York last year but that was with Brandon Allen under center. Josh Allen is a handful but this time, Vic Fangio is ready for him and the Broncos offense proves it can ground-and-pound its way to pay-dirt. Broncos win a tight one.
Week 16: at Los Angeles Chargers | Win
The Broncos win in what ends up being their second trip to SoFi Stadium after playing the Rams in the preseason.
Week 17: vs. Las Vegas Raiders | Win
Just when Jon Gruden thinks he has something to celebrate, like maybe a Wildcard berth, the Broncos bring him and the Raiders crashing back down to Earth. After losing on the road in Vegas, the Broncos lambast the Raiders at home and enter the playoff gauntlet as winners of four in a row. That's the type of momentum that can make some noise in January.
Final Record: 11-5
Maybe it's just the optimistic vestiges leftover from a very productive and exciting offseason but I'm buying what John Elway and Coach Fangio are selling in 2020. There are a few games above that I picked Denver to win that I could see going either way, so call it a margin of error of three games.
But I don't see the Broncos losing more than eight games with this schedule. And quite the contrary, I see double-digit wins as a very real possibility for Lock and company in his first full year as the man.
What are your predictions? Sound off in the comment section below!