- Week 1: Indianapolis Colts. WIN. Last year, when Peyton Manning and the Broncos traveled to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Colts, there was a lot of emotion in the air. Manning was returning to the house that he built. Drafted by the Colts in the 1998 draft, Manning led the team for 14 seasons. In that time, he made it to two Super Bowls and won one in 2006. Cut to the 2012 offseason, the Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, decided to release Manning, knowing that Andrew Luck was there for the taking at #1 in the draft, and the Colts had the first overall pick. Manning signed with Denver and when he faced his old team for the first time as a Bronco, he had an off game. He seemed on edge and unsettled. Despite a late game surge that could have seen the Broncos come back and win the game, Ronnie Hillman fumbled on the goal line, which clinched the victory for the Colts. This year will be different. The Broncos have reloaded on both offense and defense. Andrew Luck will truly need some luck to upset the defending AFC Champs at home. Ryan Grigson gets a lot of credit for the “turnaround” he’s orchestrated in Indy, but really, other than Luck, the Colts’ roster is rather barren, so I have a hard time seeing how the praise is justified. But when you have Andrew Luck, all things are possible. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs. Nonetheless, I expect the Broncos to win by two scores.
- Week 2: Kansas City Chiefs: WIN. In back-to-back seasons, the Broncos have swept the Chiefs. Even with Alex Smith in town, the Broncos simply have too much talent on offense and the Chiefs defense simply does not match up well with them. In order for the Chiefs to keep this game interesting, they’ll have to score some points. Even with Jamaal Charles, that’s easier said than done. The onus will be on Alex Smith. And other than the 2011 Divisional Round playoff game that saw him lead the San Francisco 49ers to victory over the New Orleans Saints, I can’t remember the last time I witnessed Smith win in a shootout. The Chiefs lost some key talent, especially on the offensive line. Watch for the deep and versatile Broncos front seven to dominate this game.
- Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks: LOSS. I know, I know. Blasphemy, right? It’s entirely possible that the Broncos will roll into Seattle and pull off the win. But that stadium is difficult to win in, even when the Seahawks sucked. Other than Golden Tate, a run down Red Bryant, and the aging Chris Clemons, the Seahawks will field a team in 2014 that isn’t much different than their Super Bowl winning team. The Broncos will have to play tough and protect the ball. If they can do that, and contain Russell Wilson’s play outside the pocket, they could win this game. But I expect the defending Champs of the NFL to pull out a narrow victory.
- Week 4: BYE
- Week 5: Arizona Cardinals: WIN. I know that the Cards won 10 games last year, but I can’t fear any team whose starting QB is named Carson Palmer. I expect DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller to eat greedy this week. This will be a prime opportunity for the Broncos revamped defense to force some turnovers and put this game out of reach early. Peyton Manning will put more pressure on the Cards’ vaunted secondary than they’ll be able to handle. And it’s in Denver.
- Week 6: at New York Jets. WIN. Two words. Geno Smith. Like week 5, I expect the Broncos defense to dominate the Jets and force some turnovers. The Jets have a ferocious defensive line, which could make it hard for the Broncos to run the ball, but their secondary scares nobody. Eric Decker will get a harsh reminder of the difference between the haves and havenots.
- Week 7: San Francisco 49ers. WIN. The ‘Niners have been decimated by injuries and suspensions this year. Aldon Smith will miss this game, as he serves out his 9 game suspension. We could see the return of Navarro Bowman this week, but it’s too soon to know for sure. The ‘Niners defense lost Donte Whitner to the Cleveland Browns, but they gained Antoine Bethea and one of my favorite prospects in this year’s draft. Namely, Jimmie Ward. I expect Manning to test the ‘Niners defense early and find success. Colin Kaepernick and the offense struggled mightily in the preseason, but they’ll turn the ship around once the games count. This game could be a close one, but I expect the Broncos to emerge victorious when the dust settles.
- Week 8: San Diego Chargers: WIN. This game will be a tough one. The Chargers played the Broncos tough in 2013. They even stole a game on the road at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos got their revenge when they defeated them in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This year, it seems like every personnel move the Chargers made was to counter the Broncos on some level. They brought in the ex-Chief, Brandon Flowers, to be their #1 CB, while they groom rookie 1st round pick, Jason Verrett. Both players have a similar skillset, although I like Verrett’s abilities in run support better. But the relatively diminutive size (neither taller than 5’10) of the Chargers’ top 2 CBs will not serve them well when matching up against the big Broncos WRs. Demaryius Thomas is a beast. Julius Thomas, at 6’5, towers over these guys. But the Chargers will play them tough. On defense, this is another matchup where I expect the Broncos front seven to be really effective. Pocket QBs are like tackling dummies to guys who possess such elite explosion off the ball, like Ware and Miller. At home, the Broncos win by two scores.
- Week 9: at New England Patriots. LOSS. The Broncos thumped the Pats in the AFC Title game. But that was in Denver and it was against a Pats defense that was without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. No matter which way you cut it, it’s HARD to win in Foxboro. Somehow, the Broncos keep drawing the road game in this yearly throwdown between these AFC leviathans. With the arrival of Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady has a few more weapons on offense this year, and guys like Danny Amendola now have a full season in the Pats system under their belt. Oh, and Darrelle Revis is in New England now. Recognize. If this game were in Denver, I’d call it a win. Alas, it is not.
- Week 10: at Oakland Raiders. WIN. Even though the Raiders had a really solid draft, they’re still deficient in talent. The free agents they signed this offseason are all without question over the hill. If rookie QB, Derek Carr, quarterbacks this game, it’ll at least be interesting. Regardless, expect 31 points on the board by halftime and the Broncos 2nd unit in the game for the entire 2nd half.
- Week 11: at St. Louis Rams: WIN. On paper, the Rams have a roster replete with talent across the board. On defense, they have the bookend edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Chris Long. They have one of the NFL’s premier MIKE LBs in James Lauranaitis. They have what I believe will be one of the best WILL LBs in the NFL in the near future in Alec Ogletree. Even on offense, this team is stacked. Tavon Austin. Jared Cook. A refocused Kenny Britt. Zac Stacy. But until they solve their only real glaring need, namely, QB, this team will be last in the NFC West. Although the Rams will play the Broncos tough, I expect Manning and company to pull ahead in the 2nd half and ice this game.
- Week 12: Miami Dolphins. WIN. I’m a believer in Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins have spent the last couple of seasons trying to put the right combination of talent around their young gunslinger. Mike Wallace will be more comfortable within Joe Philbin’s system and his rapport with Tannehill will be more advanced. Knowshon Moreno will return home, only to find his old homeboys putting him on his back. The Dolphins defense doesn’t have the talent to stop the Broncos offense. This game will be a blowout.
- Week 13: at Kansas City Chiefs. WIN. See week 2. This game will be a little bit tougher to earn the “W” but the Broncos will come out on top nonetheless.
- Week 14: Buffalo Bills. WIN. By this point in the season, I could see the Bills with an interim head coach because the E.J. Manuel experiment will have failed miserably and Doug Marrone will be the goat. If rookie WR, Sammy Watkins’, rib injury persists throughout this season, it will only expedite the speed with which this team will crash and burn. Their defensive line is one of the NFL’s best, but it won’t be enough. The Broncos win big at home again.
- Week 15: at San Diego Chargers. LOSS. I think the Broncos will split with the Bolts again this year. Both teams will win at home. The Chargers are a team on the rise and with Phillip Rivers at the helm, no game is out of reach. Their defense matches up well with the Broncos offense. This game will serve as the Broncos’ wake up call down the stretch and fortify their resolve going into the playoffs.
- Week 16: at Cincinnati Bengals. WIN. This team reminds me of a NFC West club. Their defense is tough and stingy. They have some elite offensive skill position players. The biggest difference is that the Andy Dalton-led Bengals love to sling the rock. But many believe that was a result of former offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden’s, scheme. Gruden is gone. He’s now the head coach for the train wreck that is the Washington Redskins. The new OC is Hue Jackson, an old AFC West nemesis of the Broncos. Expect him to run the ball a lot more. This game could be a shoot out, but at the end of the day, the Broncos win.
- Week 17: Oakland Raiders. WIN. The Broncos will be on cruise control here, resting their starters for the playoffs. Brock Osweiler will get a win for John Elway, which will serve as an open audition for possible trade bait in the offseason.
Despite having the NFC West on the schedule, along with the 3 AFC division champs of 2013, the Broncos will manage to finish at 13-3 for the 3rd straight season. This is the best case scenario, but it’s one that I feel 100% confident in.
There would only be a worst case scenario if Peyton Manning went down. And if he did go down, and it was early in the season, I wouldn’t see the Broncos winning any of their matchups with the NFC West, and I’d still see them losing to the Pats and Chargers (once). That would make them 10-6 and likely still the AFC West Champs.
Manning is healthier and stronger than he’s ever been, even before his 4 neck surgeries. I’m not going to lose a second of sleep worrying about losing him, and neither should you. Ryan Clady is back to protect his blindside. Orlando Franklin and Louis Vasquez could be the best guard tandem in the NFL.
And Manny Ramirez has really blossomed into a top center. The only real question mark on the offensive line is at right tackle, where Chris Clark has staked his claim. He did an admirable job in 2013, filling in for the injured Clady on the left side.
This year, he’s on the right, but I think he’ll be able to hold his own with the opposing edge rushers. I expect Peyton Manning to be the least sacked QB in the NFL again this year.
Grab your forks, Broncos Country, because the best is yet to come!