Denver, CO. How good, and pleasantly strange, was it to see Peyton Manning taking snaps in live action last Thursday night? For all Denver Broncos fans, it finally had to really sink in that signing Peyton was not a dream. Although he didn’t look perfect, he did look very close to his old self, slingin darts like he has so many times in the past. This year has so many expectations, and anything less than a very deep voyage into the playoffs would be considered a major disappointment. On paper, the Denver Broncos have the second toughest schedule in all of the NFL, and it is littered with land mines and potential pitfalls. As this offense continues to work and iron out the wrinkles, September is quickly approaching. Peyton Manning and his crew will get a lot more time on the field in the next two preseason games, but it would be naive to think they will be clicking on all cylinders by the time the regular season opener rolls around. With the schedule appearing to be a dicey gauntlet, starting off well in September is going to be crucial.
Of the sixteen games on the slate for 2012, seven are against teams that made the playoffs in 2011. Factor in six more games against division rivals, and there will be very little time for the Denver Broncos to take any deep breaths this year. Of the four games in September, the first three are against 2011 playoff teams. Of course the opener against Pittsburgh will include plenty of motivation from the visitors to avenge their playoff loss. In week 2, Denver travels to face Atlanta in their home opener. The Falcons are extremely tough in their building, with one of the best home records in the NFL the past few years. After that Monday Night tilt, the Broncos come back home to face Houston. Former Bronco and current Texans coach Gary Kubiak will want nothing more than to deal his old team a loss in week #3. In the final game of September, the arch rival Raiders come calling, and anything can happen when these two teams get together. So as you can see, the NFL did the Denver Broncos no favors with their early season schedule. Quite honestly, this team needs to find a way to end September with at least a 3-1 record. October doesn’t get any easier, as the first two games are at New England and at San Diego in a Monday Night battle. This schedule has the potential to put Denver behind the eight-ball before they even sniff November. Knocking off the rust for Peyton Manning is going to be critical in these next two preseason games. A slow start in September could put a serious kink in any realistic Super Bowl plans that the Broncos may have.
Peyton Manning, on the road in January, in Foxboro. We have seen that before, and it wasn’t pretty. With the fact that Denver has one of the hardest schedules, combined with the fact that New England has the easiest, this is a possible scenario in five short months. It is still very, very early, as other AFC teams will have something to say come playoff time. But coming out of the gate strong and racking up early season wins will be vital for the Broncos as the season progresses. If it’s up to Peyton and the rest of the team, avoiding January trips to New England, Pittsburgh, or Baltimore will be very desirable.