COMMENTARY | So the Denver Broncos will play the easiest 2013 schedule in National Football League.
It says so right here, straight from the NFL itself.
Don't believe it for a minute.
The formula the NFL uses to calculate a team's relative strength of schedule is as misleading as a Peyton Manning play-action pass.
In short, it's all based on this past season's records as the 2012 won-loss totals for each team's 16 scheduled regular-season opponents are simply added together. When it was all tabulated, the Broncos came out 32nd -- or dead last -- with their 2013 foes finishing a combined 110-146 (.430) in 2012.
After a quick glance at the schedule-strength rankings for the 2011-13 seasons, the Broncos' 2013 slate shapes up as the least imposing any NFL team will have faced over that span -- and you can credit the sorry state of the rest of 2012 AFC West for that as the San Diego Chargers (7-9), Oakland Raiders (4-12) and Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) finished a combined 13-35.
And, with the flawed schedule-strength formula, you double that combined record, giving the Broncos' foes a 26-70 (.271) rating for 38 percent of their 2013 itinerary.
Now, Manning and Co. still figure to be the class of the division again in 2013, but there's little reason to think the rest of the West will be as bad as the tackling dummies they were a year ago. Look no further than the off-season facelift well under way in K.C. with the Chiefs adding a new coach (Andy Reid) and quarterback (Alex Smith) and prepping to select first overall in the draft.
Aside from their six division contests, the Orange and Blue will host the Baltimore Ravens (10-6 in 2012), Tennessee Titans (6-10), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14), Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) and Washington Redskins (10-6) while visiting the New England Patriots (12-4), Houston Texans (12-4), Indianapolis Colts (11-5), Dallas Cowboys (8-8) and New York Giants (9-7).
The dates and times for each contest will be announced soon -- reportedly April 16.
On the surface, the Broncos' slate certainly doesn't appear that imposing with only five games against 2012 playoff teams compared to seven contests against clubs which finished 6-10 or worse. But, again, that's assuming the NFL has existed in a vacuum since the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, and will remain that way until the new season kicks off Sept. 5.
Not that it's breaking news or anything, but there aren't any vacuums when it comes to sports -- particularly pro sports.
To wit: The NFL has had at least four new teams - and an average of six - qualify for the playoffs in each of the past 10 seasons. Teams go from worst to first in their respective divisions -- surely you remember the 2010-11 Broncos -- and back again with unpredictable regularity.
In short, stability in today's NFL is hard to come by.
Take the Broncos' 2012 schedule as another example.
A year ago at this time, Denver's 2012 slate was judged to be the second-toughest in the league with their foes finishing a combined 139-117 (.543) in 2011.
But along came the 2012 season itself, and seven of the Broncos' 12 opponents actually wound up with worse records than their 2011 finishes - adding up to a combined 117-139 mark (.457) when all was said and done. In fact that "rugged" slate didn't exactly turn out to be so tough as the Broncos only faced two teams with winning records -- the 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals and the 10-6 Ravens -- over their final 11 regular-season games.
Denver, to its credit, took full advantage, finishing 13-3 and securing the top seed in the AFC.
In all, it was a five-game improvement over the franchise's 8-8 finish in 2011. So much for the second-nastiest schedule in the league.
And the Broncos weren't alone.
Three of the other five teams atop the 2012 "toughest" schedule rankings finished with better records than they did in 2011, and the fourth team in that group, the Ravens, did dip from 12-4 to 10-6 but just happened to wind up the season dancing with the Lombardi Trophy.
Conversely, four of the five teams judged to have the "easiest" 2012 schedules saw their win totals decrease or stay the same last season.
So still think the Broncos are a lock for a 14-2 or 15-1 finish thanks to the league's softest 2013 schedule?
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver Broncos and the NFL since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.
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