2018 AFC West schedule could see the Broncos competing for a division title

Oct 22, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) works against Los Angeles Chargers center Spencer Pulley (73) during the fourth quarter at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of a 5-11 season, the Denver Broncos have much to prove in 2018 to make their way back into the playoffs. As with all NFL teams, the journey to the playoffs starts in their own division. Last season the Broncos never had a chance of reaching the playoffs, as the team went 2-4 in the AFC West. The Broncos’ season fell apart after winning their first two divisional games, losing the remaining four divisional games on their schedule.

This season, the Broncos will try to climb their way out of the AFC West cellar with a favorable schedule against their division foes.

BRONCOS 2018 SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN

The Broncos will begin their AFC West schedule Week 2 when they host Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders. The Broncos will play the Raiders once again Week 16, on Christmas Eve in Oakland on Monday Night Football. The Raiders are looking for a bounce-back 2018 season as well after finishing 2017 with a disappointing 6-10 record. The Raiders finished last season ranked 24th in the NFL in total pass defense, which should benefit Case Keenum’s early development with receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Broncos have yet another luxury in that the Raiders will be traveling to the Mile High City in only their second game under a new head coach. Couple that with Raiders’ starting quarterback Derek Carr coming off injury and the Broncos have a strong shot to begin their season 1-0 in the AFC West. Traveling to Oakland in Week 16 might prove to be a tougher task, but the Broncos’ offense should be more in sync in the later half of the season. Against a Raider’ defense that hasn’t improved much all offseason, the matchup could still favor the Broncos.

Unlike their games against the Raiders, the Broncos will be finished with their series against the Kansas City Chiefs before the team’s Week 10 bye week. The Broncos will host the Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Week 4, and then will travel to Kansas City for a Week 8 rematch. Luckily for the Broncos, they catch the Chiefs on their own turf at the midpoint in the season, and the team may still be adjusting to new starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. While Mahomes is remembered for carving up the Broncos’ defense in the season finale of 2017, he won’t be facing Denver’s second-string defense this time around.

BRONCOS BYE WEEK ANALYSIS

It’s both a blessing and a curse for the Broncos to play the Chiefs once again before their bye week, this time on the road. On one hand, the Broncos were shut down in their last visit to Kansas City 29-19. On the other, this time around the Broncos will face the Chiefs one week after a match with the Arizona Cardinals, who still have numerous holes to fill on their roster, including the quarterback position. The Broncos should be full of confidence heading into Chiefs territory.

Kansas City has won back-to-back AFC West titles. Denver is eager to reclaim that honor after winning five straight from 2011-15.

Opposite of their schedule with the Chiefs, the Broncos will have to wait until the second half of the season (and after their bye week) to face the up-and-coming Los Angeles Chargers. The Broncos will travel to Los Angeles for a Week 11 visit, and will also close out the 2018 season with a home game against the Chargers. This is a perfect opportunity for the Broncos. First, the Broncos get to face the Chargers after their Week 10 bye week. Additionally, the Chargers will be returning from a two-game road trip after playing on the road against the Seattle Seahawks and fellow division rival Oakland Raiders. With a full two weeks to rest, recover from injury and prepare for the matchup, the Broncos have a golden opportunity to steal a road division game against their AFC West rival.

The Broncos also get to wrap up their season against the Chargers at home. This game could very much decide the fate of the AFC West. The last time the Chargers visited Denver, the Broncos held off a late comeback to win 27-24. The game will likely be cold and favor the defensively minded Broncos against their southern-Californian opponents. The Chargers won’t be an easy team for anyone in the NFL this season. USA Today recently ranked the Chargers, who finished 7-2 after their bye week in 2017, ninth overall in their NFL team rankings. However, if the Broncos are going to leapfrog the Chargers in the AFC West this season, the layout of their 2018 schedule gives them the best opportunity to do so.

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