According to NFL sources, Denver will be featured plenty in primetime. Reports are that Denver will make the maximum five appearances in night games, and may even be one of the three teams that is allowed to be featured six times on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Saturday nights.
One of those moments in the national spotlight is almost assuredly going to be opening weekend.
NBC would like to feature the Broncos as the season premiere of Sunday Night Football, as they did in 2012 when Denver hosted Pittsburgh. That Broncos-Steelers tilt, which featured the regular season debut of Peyton Manning in a Denver uniform, drew a huge audience, becoming the NFL’s highest rated regular season game in 14 years.
The network’s wish list for Sunday, Sept. 8, is as follows:
1. Broncos @ Giants – Peyton Manning versus Eli Manning. The huge New York television market. According to sources, it will be a “major upset” if this is not the SNF opener.
2. Broncos @ Patriots – There are only so many Manning/Brady match-ups remaining, making it a virtual certainty that this will be a primetime showdown at some point. But the league would prefer to save the in-conference clash for later in the season.
3. Broncos @ Colts – Manning returns to the “House that Peyton Built” (Lucas Oil Stadium) for the first time as a Bronco. It’s the old guard (Manning) against the new guard (Andrew Luck), providing an easy storyline for NBC.
4. Redskins @ Broncos – Mike Shanahan returns to Denver for the first time since being fired in 2008, which is a juicy angle. But the early season question mark surrounding Robert Griffin III makes this choice unlikely. Without RG3 in the lineup, this game loses it’s luster.
If the Broncos aren’t featured on Sunday Night Football for their opener, expect them to host a divisional game the following night. Denver has complained in recent years about repeatedly being on the road to start the season, a trend that ended the past two seasons after six straight years away from Sports Authority field for week one. Thus, the league may still be trying to even the score.
If Denver opens at home on Monday Night Football, the logical match-ups would be the Chargers, with former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy now at the helm in San Diego, and the Chiefs, with Andy Reid making his regular-season debut as the head coach in Kansas City.
While the plan for opening weekend is still being finalized, one game on the Broncos schedule is all but set in stone. Denver will be playing on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28) in Dallas. “It’s a lock,” said a league source.
After hosting the Redskins in 2012, the Cowboys must play an AFC team this year on Turkey Day. The only two options on their schedule are the Broncos and the Raiders. That’s a no-brainer for league and network executives. Having Manning and Company as part of the league’s three-game holiday slate makes for must-see TV.
Speaking on which, there are two other games on Denver’s docket that figure to get consideration for a primetime slot. The rematch between the Broncos and the Ravens, in Denver, will be a huge draw. And Chip Kelly’s Eagles making a trip to the Mile High City is also an interesting AFC-NFC match-up.
And of course, there’s still the chance that offseason moves could change the complexion of things. For example, if Tim Tebow winds up in Jacksonville, expect the Jaguars trip to Denver to go from being an Ian Eagle / Dan Fouts game to a national television affair.
So while the full 16-game schedule won’t be known for eight-plus weeks, Denver fans can start to pencil in some dates on their calendar:
Sept. 8 – Broncos at Giants (it’s a safe bet)
Nov. 28 – Broncos at Cowboys (put it down in pen)
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