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WEEK 1: TENNESSEE TITANS
Date: Monday, September 14
Time: 8:10 p.m. MDT
Venue: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver
It’s what the Broncos always want — Week 1 at home. Denver is 30-7-1 when opening the regular season at home, good for a sterling .803 winning percentage — the best for any active NFL franchise. This game will also represent Jurrell Casey’s chance to deal his former team the same kind of punishment he dished out to other teams as an interior pass rusher for the past decade.
- This is the latest that the Broncos have opened a season since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. The last time the Broncos had an opening date this late was in 1977, when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 7-0.
- Barring injury, Drew Lock would become the Broncos’ youngest Week 1 starting quarterback since John Elway, who was 23 years, two months and seven days old when he started for the Broncos at Pittsburgh on September 4, 1983. Lock will be 23 years, 10 months and three days old when the Broncos begin the regular season.
- Three of the last four games in the series saw the winning team score 17 or fewer points. The exception was in 2013, when Peyton Manning led the Broncos to a 51-28 win over the Titans, a game highlighted by Matt Prater’s league-record 64-yard field goal to end the first half.
- This extends the Broncos’ streak of seasons with at least one Monday Night Football game to a league-record 29.
- This will be the Broncos’ ninth Week 1 MNF contest. They are 4-4 when opening the season on Monday night, including a 3-2 record at home. In the second game of the MNF doubleheader, the Broncos are 2-2 — 1-1 at home and 1-1 on the road.
- Denver won seven consecutive Week 1 home games from 2012-18 and is 10-1 in Week 1 home games at Empower Field at Mile High, with a 23-20 loss to Oakland on September 12, 2011 in the first game of the John Fox era standing as the sole blemish.
Ridiculously early prediction: Broncos 24, Titans 13. Denver’s array of young offensive weapons catch Tennessee off-guard early, preventing the Titans from playing the type of ground-and-pound game in which they flourish.
WEEK 2: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Date: Sunday, September 20
Time: 11 a.m. MDT
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Both the Broncos and Steelers will be working on short weeks; the Steelers face the New York Giants in the opening game of the Monday Night Football doubleheader before the Broncos-Titans clash. Don’t expect a low score to win this game; the winning team has had at least 28 points in seven of the last nine games in this series, including postseason.
- Denver is 1-8 since 2017 in Eastern Time Zone games that start at 1 p.m., as this one will. The Broncos won seven consecutive early-afternoon games in the Eastern Time Zone from 2012-16, but overall since 2000, the Broncos are 14-23 in this scenario.
- The Steelers have lost two consecutive regular-season home openers — to Seattle last year and Kansas City in 2018 — but overall are 15-4 in home openers at Heinz Field, including 14 wins in 15 home openers from 2003-17.
- However, it must be noted that the Steelers are notorious for their slow starts. Since their last Super Bowl appearance 10 seasons ago (a Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers), the Steelers are just 13-17-1 in September, but are 77-36 in other months of the regular season.
- This will be the 17th game (including playoffs) between the Broncos and Steelers since January 1990, but only the fifth to be played in Pittsburgh in that span. This will be only the Broncos’ third game at Heinz Field, which begins its 20th season as the Steelers’ home venue.
Ridiculously early prediction: Steelers 24, Broncos 17. This will be Roethlisberger’s first home game in nearly a full calendar year, and he will receive a raucous welcome from the fans after a season spent watching Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
WEEK 3: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Date: Sunday, September 27
Time: 2:25 p.m. MDT
Venue: Empower Field at Mile High
One week after facing one likely Hall of Fame quarterback in Roethlisberger, the Broncos turn around and host the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers. The Broncos are the only team with a winning record against Brady-led teams (9-8, including postseason), and unless Brady somehow remains in Tampa Bay until 2024 — when he would be 47 — this seems likely to be the last Brady-Broncos duel unless these franchises meet in a Super Bowl.
- Wins over the Bucs are usually a harbinger of good times for the Broncos, as they have never had a losing season during a year in which they defeated Tampa Bay. The Broncos have won an average of 10.3 games per season in years they beat the Bucs.
- Tampa Bay is 1-4 at Denver all-time, its only win coming in a 17-10 upset in Week 17 of the 1993 season.
- Brady will be the ninth quarterback to start for the Bucs against the Broncos in the 10-game history of the series. Trent Dilfer was the only Bucs QB to start twice against the Broncos, guiding Tampa Bay in the 1996 and 1999 games.
- On the flip side, Lock will be the ninth quarterback to start for the Broncos in their 10 games against the Bucs. Elway started the 1993 and 1996 games in the series, making him the only Denver quarterback to start twice against Tampa Bay.
- Six of the last seven games in the series were decided by one score; the exception was the Broncos’ 27-7 throttling of the Bucs in Tampa four years ago.
- This will mark the sixth time in the last seven meetings in the series to take place in the first five weeks of the regular season.
- Although the game is scheduled for the 2:25 p.m. MDT window on Fox, it may not be the national game. Fox also has a Cowboys-Seahawks game scheduled for the same time, which could consign the Broncos and Bucs to regional coverage, despite the allure of Brady facing the only club to post a winning record against teams he’s quarterbacked.
Ridiculously early prediction: Broncos 28, Buccaneers 23. The Bucs’ defense improved late last year, and their bountiful collection of targets at the wide receiver and tight end positions — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate — could cause a nightmare for the Broncos in coverage. But the history of Hall-of-Fame-caliber quarterbacks in their first games after leaving their longtime teams shows some early bumps on the win-loss ledger. The Broncos lost three of their first five games with Peyton Manning at quarterback. The Brett Favre-led Jets lost two of their first three immediately after he moved on from the Packers in 2008 (although he and the Vikings fared far better a year later after he moved on to Minnesota). Joe Montana (Kansas City, 1993) and Warren Moon (Minnesota, 1994) avoided this fate (although the Vikings did lose their first game with Moon before winning seven of the next eight)
Those last two examples offer hope that Brady can do the same, even at his advanced age. But the Broncos’ defense should be able to generate pressure, and the Bucs may not have enough in the secondary to cope with the Broncos’ arsenal of targets. This game being in the season’s first quarter gives the Broncos an edge.
WEEK 4: NEW YORK JETS
Date: Thursday, October 1
Time: 6:20 p.m. MDT
Venue: Met Life Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
TV: Fox/NFL Network/Amazon
The second-longest trip of the season in terms of air miles — 3,210 miles round-trip from Denver to Newark Liberty International Airport — comes in the shortest week of the season. Historically, teams that have traveled two or three time zones to play on Thursday nights have fared poorly, going 7-23 all-time, according to pro-football-reference.com. That .233 winning percentage contrasts with a .409 winning percentage (total record 76-110) for teams that stayed in their time zone or traveled one time zone to play on Thursdays.
But Denver optimism comes in the fact that the Broncos are 2-0 in this scenario, winning at Indianapolis in 2017 and Cleveland in 2008. Even though this game runs the risk of being a doughnut-hole game between Brady’s Bucs and the Patriots, a matchup like this is also a revealing test for a young team to see how it handles a less-heralded foe.
- Denver has won five of its last six road games on Thursday night, most recently a 45-10 beatdown of the Arizona Cardinals on October 18, 2018. The Broncos also hold a .700 winning percentage in Thursday road games — including Thanksgiving afternoon contests — since 2000; this is the fourth-best percentage in the league behind only the Patriots, Colts and Broncos. (It’s also worth noting that since 2000, visiting teams league-wide win 41.6 percent of Thursday games, compared with 42.9 percent of Sunday games and 44.2 percent of Monday contests.)
- The Jets’ hopes for 2020 rest in how much better they were across the board with Sam Darnold in the lineup last year. In the three games Darnold missed because of mononucleosis, the Jets were parked in the hangar, averaging just 7.7 points, 165 total yards and 9.3 first downs per game. But with Darnold, Gang Green’s output wasn’t exactly robust — 19.5 points, 298 yards and 17.3 first downs per game. Getting Le’Veon Bell untracked would help, but with wide receiver Robby Anderson leaving in free agency, the Jets need free-agent pickup Breshad Perriman and second-round choice Denzel Mims to become explosive in a hurry. Otherwise, their offense will be an easy mark for Denver’s defense.
- Close games have been the exception rather than the rule in the last 15 years of this series. Five of the seven Broncos-Jets games in that span were decided by 14 or more points; just two were one-score games — the 2010 and 2011 contests in Denver. The teams split those games, with the Jets winning 24-20 in 2010 and the Broncos eking out a Tim Tebow special, a 17-13 comeback win on Thursday night in 2011.
- This will be Adam Gase’s second game as a head coach against the Broncos; he guided Miami to a 35-9 win in 2017, a game most remembered for Gase calling a successful on-side kickoff with 10:21 left in the fourth quarter and Miami up by 26 points. In the last 40 years, the Broncos have faced former coordinators as head coaches 34 times. They won 22 of these games. Gase is currently one of two ex-Broncos coordinators to have a winning record as a head coach against them after leaving; the other is Gary Kubiak, whose Texans won two of three games against the Broncos while he was Houston’s head coach.
Ridiculously early prediction: Jets 16, Broncos 14. There are going to be some bumps along the Broncos’ road back to playoff relevance as this young team grows, and a game following the euphoria of beating a Brady-led bunch could be one of them.