The only benefit of the Broncos finishing last in the AFC West for the third straight year is that they finished last for Sean Payton’s first year in the city.
But despite the Broncos reportedly having the easiest schedule in the division, seven of the 17 games in 2023 will come against teams that made the playoffs last season.
However, four of those seven games are against the Chiefs and Chargers. The only three other playoff teams from a year ago that Denver is playing this year are the Vikings at home and the Bills and Dolphins away.
Aside from Denver’s two games against Kansas City, which are probably the two toughest games on the Broncos’ schedule, what’s the toughest task for Russell Wilson and the team this year?
The DNVR Broncos crew speaks out.
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Aside from their games against the Chiefs, what’s the Broncos’ toughest game of 2023?
Zac: At home against the Jets — That’s not the answer that jumps out of schedule at first glance. That’s how Ryan and Henry argue in Buffalo against the Bills. And this game is without a doubt an incredibly tough game.
But the new-look New York Jets have a chance to appear even more intimidating, even at home in front of the Mile High crowd.
Well, the argument is pretty simple.
Last year, the Jets had the fourth-best defense in the NFL despite having the fourth-worst offense in the NFL. While the Broncos’ defense has been great for most of the year, we’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is for a defense to stay elite for an entire season when the other side has such a poor offense.
Denver’s defense failed to remain elite all the way, ending the season as the 14th-best scoring defense. The Jets’ defense, on the other hand, was. And this defense has a chance to be better than last year thanks to its young core. While the Bills’ defense was the second-best defense last year, they lost key figures like linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and their defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and could easily take a step back this season.
When it comes to the Jets’ rotten offensive a year ago, no team at the most important position in the sport has had a bigger boost than New York, from Zach Wilson to Aaron Rodgers.
Yes, Nathaniel Hackett is the Jets’ offensive coordinator and isn’t being taken seriously in Denver for obvious reasons. But when Hackett and Rodgers last got together, Aaron won back-to-back MVP titles.
If Rodgers gets close to MVP form this year and their defense remains elite, the Jets will have the offensive weapons, including Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, to put in a Super Bowl run.
That’s a very realistic formula for the Jets to be Denver’s toughest game on the schedule aside from the two games against the Chiefs.
RC: Week 1 at Home with the Raiders – Before you roll your eyes, listen to me.
This has nothing to do with Josh McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders. It has everything to do with the terrible product the Denver Broncos put on the field last season.
It feels like all of Denver is in evidence mode with this team, especially Russell Wilson. Heck, Russ was booed for appearing onscreen at a Nuggets playoff game this offseason. The Las Vegas home game is one of the more profitable games on the Broncos’ schedule, but a rivalry game in the first game of the season brings a lot of pressure.
This is the toughest non-Chiefs game on the schedule as there is so much at stake for the energy surrounding the team. When you win, they say, “Maybe Sean Payton has what it takes to reverse that move.” When you lose, they say, “Here we go again.”
I have no doubts that if they overcome that mental hurdle and get a win in week 1 they can get off to a great start. But they have to defeat many demons against the Raiders.
Strand: I’m going to Buffalo — Over the past three seasons, the Buffalo Bills have been one of the most dominant teams in the regular season.
They averaged more than 12 wins per season. They finished in the top three in the NFL in terms of points scored in each of those three seasons. They’ve finished in the top two in points allowed in three of the last four seasons.
A postseason record .500 in the Josh Allen era stole some of Buffalo’s shine, but the Broncos are playing the Bills in the regular season, so it doesn’t matter.
And not only do the Broncos play the Bills in the regular season, they also play in Buffalo, where the Bills were 7-1 last season. The game is scheduled for November 13 when Buffalo weather could play a role, particularly for a Monday night game.
Denver will have a bye, a situation Sean Payton excelled at in the second half of his New Orleans stint, but the extra day off for the Bills — with the game being played on Monday instead of Sunday — could lessen that effect.
Aside from the Chiefs, the Bills are the best team on the Broncos roster. Others, like the Chargers, Jets or Packers might hope to reach their level this season, but the Bills are the only team that has established itself in the league’s elite. The game takes place away from home and is clearly the toughest on the schedule.