Broncos face a daunting four-game stretch following their Week 10 bye

Sep 25, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) catches a pass and dives over Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams (36) in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Denver defeated the Cincinnati 29-17. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The release of the 2018 NFL Schedule was much kinder to the Denver Broncos than their grueling 2017 schedule. In addition to a favorable AFC West schedule, the Broncos also have a later bye week (Week 10 in 2018, week 5 in 2017) to allow the team a better chance to finish the season strong.

However, in their latter part of the season, the Broncos will face a difficult four-game span that includes three road games that could determine the fate of the team’s season. Spanning from Weeks 11 to 15, the Broncos will play at the Los Angeles Chargers, host the Pittsburgh Steelers, and then go back on the road for games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers. All of those are tough games, to say the least.

While the Broncos do get to prepare for the Chargers after their bye week, the Chargers are still a force to be reckoned with the AFC West, having finished 2017 with a remarkable 7-2 record. Traveling to Los Angeles might not be as daunting as a trip to Philadelphia, but the Broncos will certainly be in must-win mode coming off of a bye against an AFC West opponent.

Next, the Broncos get to return home, but unfortunately will play one of the NFL’s best teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are coming off of an AFC North championship and a terrific 13-3 season. Hosting the Steelers might be the only chance the Broncos have of competing against a team of their caliber. Win or lose, the game figures be a physical match-up that could take a lot out of the Broncos.

After the Steelers, the Broncos face another AFC North opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Bengals’ season didn’t end well as a whole, Cincinnati still got the better of the Broncos in 2017 with a 20-17 win in Denver. While the Broncos are far from the same team that played the Bengals last year, coming off of an exhausting game against the Steelers will be a challenge for the Broncos to overcome physically and mentally. The Broncos cannot overlook the Bengals, a team desperate to turn around their standing in the AFC just like the Broncos.

Finally, the Broncos cap off their rough stretch of road games with a trip to Santa Clara to play the San Francisco 49ers. There is perhaps no team trending up faster than the 49ers, who went from NFL mediocrity to sudden NFC West contenders after swinging a trade for franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and finishing 2017 with five straight victories. One of the bigger stories leading up to this game might be the Broncos playing against 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, whom the Broncos considered hiring for their own head coaching vacancy before moving forward with Vance Joseph. It will be the first time each coach has faced the another in a regular season game (they met in the 2017 preseason).

If the Broncos hope to turn the page on their nightmare 2017 season, they will need to survive a rough stretch in the latter half of their 2018 season. The Week 10 bye gives the team an opportunity to catch its breath and prepare for their daunting road trip and will be a very telling sign of how far the team has come since its forgettable 2017 season.

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