Broncos open season in prime time vs. Titans

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DENVER — The schedule is out.

It might be a guideline. But there are some some fantastic matchups. There will be toll road back to the playoffs for the Broncos as they aim to end their four-year postseason drought. Their schedule ranks as the 12th toughest in terms of opponents’ winning percentage. Denver plays every AFC 2019 playoff team, save for the Titans and Ravens. Let’s just say the offense needs to grow up fast. My Denver7 analysis:

Week 1: TITANS at BRONCOS, MONDAY NIGHT, SEPT 14, 8:10 p.m., ESPN

Drew Lock will not get a chance to crawl before he walks. He steps into Frogger heavy traffic with his new offense, debuting in the second game on Monday night in Denver against the Titans. Tennessee advanced to the AFC Championship last season behind runningback Derrick Henry. Denver squashed the Titans a year ago, leading to Marcus Mariota’s benching in favor of Ryan Tannehill. The Broncos’ strength of schedule ranks 12th. They play every 2019 AFC Playoff team save for the Ravens and Texans. For the Broncos, winning home games remains paramount to snapping their four-year playoff drought.

Week 2: BRONCOS at STEELERS, Sept. 20, 11 a.m., CBS

Ben Roethlisberger remains the favorite to win comeback player of the year honors. He is a future Hall of Famer, one of four on the Broncos’ schedule, joining Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Mahomes. However, he has not played well against the Broncos, posting a 2-4 record with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Pittsburgh’s defense, though, figures to be yet another tough test for the Broncos talented, but young offense.

Week 3: BUCCANEERS vs. BRONCOS, Sept. 27, 2:25 p.m., CBS

At 31, outside linebacker Von Miller believes he can win Defensive Player of the Year honors. If so, he needs to reach double digit sacks for the season during this game, leaving him on pace for roughly 15. Tom Brady is a favorite target. Miller has 7.5 career sacks of Brady, his third most of any quarterback. The Broncos boast an intriguing statistic. Denver represents the only team Brady has a losing record against, going 8-9 counting the playoffs.

Week 4: BRONCOS at JETS, OCT. 1, Thursday, FOX, 6:20 p.m.

Even in prime time, the Jets don’t exactly move the needle. But dig deeper, and there’s a history worth exploring. Adam Gase, while the Dolphins coach, tried to run up the score on Denver in 2017, executing an onside kick while leading by 24 points. The Broncos can afford no missteps against the Dolphins and Jets. Regarding the Jets I promise the Broncos GM remembers the past. this one’s for John.

Week 5: BRONCOS at PATRIOTS, Oct. 11, 11 a.m., CBS

Peyton and Tom only face off on the golf course now. With Brady gone, this game no longer feels special. But it will be several years, if ever, before Broncos’ fans stop loathing New England and the Hoodie, whose defenses figures to remain stout.

Week 6: DOLPHINS vs. BRONCOS, Oct. 18, 2:05 p.m., CBS

Gotta beat bad teams. It’s that simple.

Week 7: CHIEFS vs. BRONCOS, OCT. 25, 2:25 p.m., CBS

The Broncos know how the Chiefs felt when facing John Elway and Peyton Manning. Kansas City struggled to beat them. The Broncos haven’t won against Kansas City since Manning retired, dropping nine straight games. Lock’s career will be judged, in part, in how he performs against annual MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes.

Week 8: BYE WEEK

Week 9: BRONCOS at FALCONS

The Broncos will head to Atlanta to face Julio Jones and the Falcons.

Week 10: BRONCOS at RAIDERS, Nov. 15, 2:25 p.m., CBS

Hopefully by this point fans are allowed into stadiums. You know Broncos Country will show up loud and proud in Las Vegas. If the schedule is truncated, AFC West games will likely be preserved. Anything less than a 4-2 division mark could doom the Broncos’ playoff chances.

Week 11: L.A. CHARGERS vs. BRONCOS, Nov. 22, 2:05 p.m., CBS

The schedule remains spicy. Lock faces former Broncos All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in the opener at SoFi Stadium. And Melvin Gordon’s revenge tour starts. The runningback’s relationship with his teammates frayed after his holdout last season. There will be trash talk. “It’s going to be real cool,” Harris Jr. told Denver7.

Week 12: SAINTS vs. BRONCOS, Nov. 29, 2:05 p.m., CBS

It only seems like Drew Brees is a member of the Manning family. He is close with Peyton, and has ravaged the record book. Broncos coach Vic Fangio will have a tall order slowing Brees. However, the 41-year-old has struggled against the Broncos, going 2-4. This is the type of win that can define a run to the playoffs.

Week 13: BRONCOS at CHIEFS, Dec. 6, 6:20 p.m., NBC

The Chiefs outscored the Broncos 53-9 last season. But the humiliated them in prime time a year ago. Denver receives a chance at redemption. This game could go a long way in determining if the Broncos have indeed closed the gap on the Super Bowl champs.

Week 14: BRONCOS at PANTHERS, Dec. 13, 11 a.m., CBS

Good teams beat bad teams on the road. The Broncos’ playoff return must be paved with a win against a rebuilding club. This game offers a treat for local fans: it represents former Valor Christian star Christian McCaffrey’s first matchup against his father Ed’s former team.

Week 15: BILLS vs. BRONCOS, Dec. 19-20, TBD

Josh Allen could have been a Bronco. Denver knew him well, closely following his college career at Wyoming. The Broncos drafted linebacker Bradley Chubb instead, and are now committed to Drew Lock. Allen bedazzled against the Broncos last season in an easy win. Time for the Broncos to Cowboy Up.

Week 16: BRONCOS at CHARGERS, Dec. 26-27, TBD

For the Broncos to return to the postseason they must go 4-2 in the division. Sweeping the Chargers would help in that regard. Denver has played well against L.A. the past two seasons.

Week 17: RAIDERS at BRONCOS, Jan. 3, 2:25 p.m.

A postseason berth could hang in the balance. It doesn’t get better than that.

BRONCOS PRESEASON SCHEDULE

Aug. 13-15 San Francisco

Aug. 20-24 vs. Chicago Bears (Joint practices included)

Aug. 27-30 at LA Rams

Sept. 3-4 at Arizona Cardinals