Denver Broncos Schedule Breakdown: Ranking Every Game By Difficulty

The Denver Broncos 2021 NFL Regular Season schedule is here! After four straight losing seasons for the first time in franchise history, the Broncos enter 2021 tied for fifth-best strength of schedule. This optimistic metric requires a Denver Broncos schedule breakdown. With 17 games on the docket for the first time, breaking the schedule down to its individual games can help provide context for the team’s performances therein. Hoping for his first winning season with the team, head coach Vic Fangio needs to bring Denver back to the playoffs— or at least get them close.

Denver Broncos Schedule Breakdown

1. vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 13)

Playing on the road is tough, but playing on the road at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri is tougher. The Chiefs have made an appearance in the last two consecutive Super Bowls, including a victory in Super Bowl LIV in 2019. Unsurprisingly, this is largely because the team boasts arguably the most frightening offense in football. The Broncos have not won at Arrowhead since splitting the series in 2015. Drew Lock—or whichever passer is under center—will need to bring his A-game and so will head coach Vic Fangio.

2. vs. Baltimore Ravens (Week 4)

After the 2021 NFL Draft, the Ravens have a reloaded offense complete with new pass-catching weapons for quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Broncos certainly addressed the defense in the same draft but the Denver secondary lacks the top-end speed required to most effectively neutralize the Baltimore passing attack. Despite what is poised to be the best pass-rushing unit Denver has had in many years, the team must rely on rookie athleticism to contain Jackson on the ground. To compete with Baltimore, the Broncos will need their offense securely firing on all cylinders and several takeaways from the defense.

3. vs. Cleveland Browns (Week 7)

A mere four nights after hosting the Las Vegas Raiders, the Broncos play in their only slotted primetime game in 2021: Thursday Night Football in Cleveland, Ohio. Their game against the Raiders comes after two straight weeks of 2020 AFC playoff teams, suggesting exhaustion will be high. The Cleveland Browns are a gritty team with playmakers at every level on both sides of the ball and present a serious problem to the Broncos. If last year’s injury problems continue through the 2021 season, this game is scheduled to be a turning point for the team. If the Browns are on their game, the Broncos will need to dig down deep to even remain competitive.

4. vs. Dallas Cowboys (Week 9)

By Week 9, quarterback Dak Prescott should be more comfortable back on the field after his catastrophic season-ending injury in 2020. Their offense is constructed well. The receiving corps should prove difficult for the Denver defense to contain, which would allow Ezekiel Elliott to thrive better than he has against Denver in the past. The Broncos offense will need to pick up any slack from a likely overwhelmed defense if they hope to stay in the game. The defensive additions Dallas made in the 2021 NFL Draft are poised to make that difficult for Pat Shurmur and company.

5. vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 18)

If recent history is any indication, the Broncos 2021 regular-season finale could see the backups of the Chiefs play because the team already secured the number-one seed. In the event this does not take place, this may be Denver’s best shot to beat Kansas City in quite some time. Unfortunately, that does not mean much, as Denver’s defense is still not built to adequately contain the ‘Legion of Zoom’. While the Broncos typically play the Chiefs tightly (especially at home), they will have just finished playing two games on the road against other divisional rivals. Broncos Country might genuinely need to hope Kansas City’s starters sit in this one.

6. vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Week 17)

The Los Angeles Chargers put together one of the best draft classes in the entire 2021 NFL Draft. With reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert under center, the penultimate game of Denver’s season should prove a true challenge. First-time head coach Brandon Staley needs to be up for the challenge of a considerably more experienced coaching staff on the other side. If L.A.’s second-year passer avoids a sophomore slump, Denver will need its defense to force takeaways to give the offense more opportunities to score. The Chargers offense, however, could make-or-break the game.

7. vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 5)

The Steelers won 11 straight games to begin 2020 but it was an empty husk of the team suffering a one-and-done in the postseason. History suggests that by Week 5 of the 2021 season, the Steelers will be at the height of their offensive rhythm. If T.J. Watt and the Steelers defense can maintain consistent pressure on the Denver quarterback, future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger won’t need his unique brand of hero-ball. Despite their unceremonious departure from the 2020 NFL Playoffs, the Steelers are an imposing challenge, especially on the road.

8. vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Week 12)

When Denver hosts the Chargers in late November, they will have had 14 days between games. Their Week 11 bye after ten straight weeks of games should provide the Broncos with a healthier, better-rested team. With home-field advantage in hand, a fresher-legged Denver should be able to execute their game plan more easily. The Broncos should be able to play better than usual with two weeks of preparation under their belt. That said, the athleticism of the dynamic starting lineup of the Chargers likely will prove a daunting challenge for even a restored Denver defense.

9. vs. Las Vegas Raiders (Week 16)

In Week 16, the Broncos go on the road against a division rival after two relatively easy games at home. After their Week 6 matchup, each team will have had ten weeks to study adjustments made throughout the season. Arguably one of the most interesting games on the schedule, this Week 16 AFC West contest is fairly middle-of-the-road difficulty-wise for the Broncos. In a true “any given Sunday” situation, the Raiders run game and ability to contain the Denver offense should prove the deciding factor in the game.


10. vs. Washington Football Team (Week 8)

After ten days of rest following Thursday Night Football, the Broncos host the Washington Football Team. Like Denver, Washington has a formidable defense and some question marks on the offensive side of the ball. If free-agent addition Ryan Fitzpatrick cannot provide his Fitzmagic, the Football Team will need Ron Rivera’s defense to step up to keep the game close. That said, Rivera is a respectable head coach whose teams you can never truly count out. As such, expect this game to be gritty, defensive, and low-scoring.

11. vs. Las Vegas Raiders (Week 6)

Denver’s easiest game since their Week 2 meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars is a peculiar tipping point for the Broncos. In Week 6, Denver returns home to host the Las Vegas Raiders in their first divisional game of the season. With Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the rearview mirror, the Broncos can focus on a far easier opponent in the Raiders. After a puzzling 2021 NFL Draft haul, the Raiders will need Derek Carr to play his best football against the Denver defense. The sheer speed of their receiving corps also plays to their advantage due to the lack of top-end speed in the Broncos secondary.

12. vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 2)

The Jacksonville Jaguars wield a surprisingly interesting roster. With Urban Meyer at the helm and first-overall pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, under center, it is yet unclear what kind of return the team will receive for its investment in the offense. Despite one of the best passing prospects in recent memory at quarterback, the Jaguars will still be a team in its infancy. Denver should not only compete but also be able to dictate the flow of the game itself. There is a more experienced staff and roster in Denver, but who knows how good Trevor Lawrence truly is?

13. vs. New York Giants (Week 1)

The Giants drafted fairly well in the 2021 NFL Draft, but it is still Daniel Jones under center. Saquan Barkley returns to the field in his first game since a season-ending injury in 2020, but the offensive line is still questionable. That said, the offense will have a better idea of what the scheme looks like with more expected starters in place than last season saw. The additions of Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay are of greatest concern to the Broncos game plan. Despite this, Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Patrick Surtain II should have no trouble contesting passes in their direction. Tight end Evan Engram is likely to drop most passes thrown his way anyway, so he is not too big a concern.

14. vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Week 10)

The Eagles still don’t have a serviceable offensive line. Their wide receiver room, despite the addition of Heisman DeVonta Smith, is still full of question marks. Unfortunately, Jalen Hurts is no world-beater and is, himself, a question mark at quarterback. Denver’s defense boasts countless mismatches over the Eagles offense. The Eagles also lack a competent secondary with enough depth to contend with Denver’s skill-position players. Unless Hurts takes a serious step forward in 2021, the Broncos should be able to play a competitive game ahead of their bye week.

15. vs. Detroit Lions (Week 14)

Jared Goff strikes fear into the hearts of no man. After a bizarre hire at head coach and a decent off-season haul, the Lions still do not pose too great a challenge for the Broncos. If Drew Lock was able to lead the Broncos to victory over the Lions when they had Matthew Stafford under center, there’s almost no excuse not to beat the Goff-led Lions, too.

16. vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Week 15)

By Week 15, Bengals fans will have witnessed nearly a full season of Joe Burrow running for his life behind the backfield tour guides Zac Taylor calls an offensive line. Denver’s defense should be able to ruin Burrow’s day no matter who they drafted at wide receiver. This is because Denver has the superior unit at every position at every level in every phase of the game (except for quarterback). If the Broncos defense performs even halfway adequately, this should be rather cut-and-dry.

17. vs. New York Jets (Week 3)

Typically, rookie passers do not fare well against Vic Fangio’s defenses. Considering the Jets offensive line is still a mess despite recent additions, Zach Wilson’s first outing against a Fangio-led defense should continue the trend. Robert Saleh is a first-time head coach with a suspect running game, underachievers at tight end, wide receivers who need to prove themselves, and a quarterback without any game experience. Admittedly, the Jets did improve in the 2021 NFL Draft and off-season, but Denver beat them 37-28 in 2020— with Brett Rypien under center. The Jets are not a concern to the Broncos whatsoever.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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