Back in the spring when the NFL released the upcoming schedule for the 2012 season, many football analysts felt that the Denver Broncos got the short end of the stick. When the schedule was announced, Tim Tebow was the starting quarterback and many Broncos fans felt that a repeat of 2011's record would be very difficult. Now, however, the Broncos have Peyton Manning and that difficult schedule doesn't look quite so foreboding.
The Broncos Will Take Their Lumps
Don't get me wrong. The Broncos aren't going to be winning 13 games this year and running away with the division. You can't play a non-divisional schedule that includes the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and the Baltimore Ravens and think the year is going to be a breeze just because you have a future Hall of Fame quarterback now.
Yes, Peyton Manning will win games for the Broncos by virtue of his intelligence and experience. However, as we all saw against the Atlanta Falcons, Manning also have his rusty games as he returns to the NFL after a year away from the game due to a neck fusion surgery. I've felt since before training camp that the Broncos would likely lose six games this season and that most of those losses would come in the first third of the season. After watching them the first two games of the season, my opinion hasn't changed.
Difficult Opponents Will Force This Team To Get Better Faster
Unlike 2011 when the Broncos faced a weak schedule that featured many teams that had problems scoring, there are several scheduled opponents in 2012 that could easily put up 30 points against the Broncos. The defense, which was completely redone when the Broncos hired head coach John Fox in 2011, has already been put under a lot of pressure in the first two games. That pressure will only get worse as they face quarterbacks like Matt Schaub, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees over the next six weeks.
We've already seen how good the defensive game plan has been the first two weeks of the season. The defense is eighth in the NFL in total yards allowed. They were able to keep the Falcons mostly in check despite the Broncos offense giving up four turnovers in the first quarter last Monday, and they're a defense that will only get better as it gets more experience. Imagine how good this team will be once the offense finally gets to firing on all cylinders. It may take the entire season, but the way that Manning and crew have made adjustments against some tough defenses so far make me hopeful that there is a bright future. If the Broncos can make it into the playoffs, this difficult schedule they have now will have prepared them well for whoever they may face.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor who writes about the Denver Broncos for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A lifelong football fan, she began following the Broncos upon moving to Colorado in 2001.