ENGLEWOOD—This is what is called a “bunch” schedule.
The Denver Broncos play a bunch of home games early. Then they play a bunch of road games early.
“It’s fair,’’ Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said in an interview with 9NEWS. “I’m excited about it. To have the first three out of four at home (in the first quarter of the season), for our fans and our fans that’s exciting.’’
The NFL released its 2017 schedule for all 32 teams Thursday. The league also put exact dates and kickoff times on its preseason schedule.
The Broncos play their first two regular-season games at home – against the Los Angeles Chargers in their season opener on Monday night, Sept. 11, and against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. 17.
The good and bad of the Broncos’ 2017 schedule:
*Four of the first five Broncos games are at home. Coupled with playing at home in the final two games of their preseason schedule, the Broncos better hope home is sweet. The team will be physically in Denver from Aug. 20, the day after it spends a week practicing and playing against the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan San Francisco 49ers, until Sept. 23, when it travels for its first regular-season road game at Buffalo.
“Having that many home games in a row, it’s important we take advantage of that,’’ Joseph said. “The home games are critical.’’
*To counter their long home stretch, the Broncos will play seven games in 10 weeks on the road. First is a stretch of three consecutive road games at the Los Angeles Chargers, at Kansas City and at Philadelphia.
Then it’s two home games against New England and Cincinnati, followed by a block of four road games (at Oakland, Miami, Indianapolis and Washington) in a five-week stretch.
*In 2016, the Broncos bye week was relatively late, in week 11. This year, their bye week is relatively early, in week 5.
“I think it’s a good time for a bye,’’ Joseph said. “We put it all in quarters so after the first four games, having a bye week going into the second quarter is important.’’
Early must be better than late. It can be definitively concluded last year’s bye week came at a bad time. The Broncos were 7-3 and coming off a thrilling win at New Orleans entering their bye week last year. They then lost four of their first five games after the bye.
*The second half of the Broncos’ regular season opener against the Chargers will kick off well past the kids’ bedtime. Game 2 in the Monday night doubleheader, the Broncos-Chargers game won’t start until 8:20 p.m.
*The Broncos remain an attractive team nationally as once again their schedule includes the maximum five primetime games. The NFL’s flex schedule on NBC Sunday Night Football could add a sixth primetime game – or subtract one depending how the Broncos and their opponent are faring.
*The Broncos’ biological clocks will be tested as four games against eastern time zone teams will kick off at 11 a.m. Denver time.
*After opening their preseason at Chicago against John Fox’s Bears on Thursday, Aug. 10, the Broncos will return home for a few days, then hold joint practices with the 49ers on Wednesday, Aug. 16 and Thursday, Aug. 17 in Santa Clara, before the two teams play their preseason game on Saturday, Aug. 19.
*Regardless of what order they play their games, and when they start, the Broncos have the toughest schedule in the NFL. On paper, they do.
Broncos opponents had a combined .578 winning percentage in 2016. Eight of their games are against teams that won at least 10 games in 2016.
“That’s a great test for us,’’ Joseph said. “It’s what we got to do. We get the Giants here and then go on the road for three straight games, that’s going to be a challenge, but it’s all about keeping your focus, keeping your team fresh and having your best each week.’’
A game-by-game look of the Broncos’ 2017 schedule (all times Mountain):
1. Thursday, Aug. 10 at Chicago Bears, 6 p.m.
Second consecutive year the Broncos will begin their starting quarterback audition against their former head coach, John Fox.
2. Saturday, Aug. 19 at San Francisco 49ers, 8 p.m.
Based on the past two seasons, the joint practices between these teams will be more entertaining than the game.
3. Saturday, Aug. 26 vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS, 7 p.m.
This is the preseason game where starters generally play the entire first half. And one of the starters is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
4. Thursday, Aug. 31 vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS, 7 p.m.
Half the players participating in this game won’t be on their team’s season-opening roster. Figuring out who to keep, and who to cut, is what preseason game 4 is all about.
1. Monday, Sept. 11, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS, 8:20 p.m.
All that extra tailgating should put Bronco fans in good spirits as they welcome their good friend, Philip Rivers.
2. Sunday, Sept. 17, DALLAS COWBOYS, 2:25 p.m.
Tony Romo will not be calling this game for CBS, as the game is televised by FOX, but Denver’s new defensive coordinator Joe Woods will be tested by Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant.
3. Sunday, Sept. 24, at Buffalo Bills, 11 a.m.
Figures to be more enjoyable playing Buffalo in September than December. Denver D should know how to stop the Bills’ offense, whose offensive coordinator is Rick Dennison.
4. Sunday, Oct. 1, OAKLAND RAIDERS, 2:25 p.m.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is healthy after a broken leg forced him to miss the Raiders’ final game loss in Denver last season.
5. Sunday, Oct. 8, BYE
The challenge will be to stay healthy for the final stretch of 12 games in 12 weeks.
6. Sunday, Oct. 15, NEW YORK GIANTS, 6:30 p.m
Got to think Peyton Manning will drop by to watch his brother Eli Manning quarterback the Giants, who won 11 games last year.
7. Sunday, Oct. 22 at Los Angeles Chargers
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy won’t return to where he was head coach the previous four seasons as the Chargers have moved from San Diego to a temporary, 30,000-seat stadium in Los Angeles.
8. Monday, Oct. 30, at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m.
Arrowhead Stadium and the Chiefs can be a scary mix on Halloween Eve. Broncos must find an answer to Tyreek Hill this year.
9. Sunday, Nov. 5 at Philadelphia Eagles, 11 a.m.
Third consecutive road game, on short week, with early start. A difficult task even if Carson Wentz experiences a sophomore slump.
10. Sunday, Nov. 12, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, 6:30 p.m.
Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champs have been a team since 2000. This will be their 19th game against the Broncos in those 18 seasons. The teams are 9-9 in that stretch.
11. Sunday, Nov. 19, CINCINNATI BENGALS, 2:25 p.m.
New Broncos defensive tackle Domata Peko played his first 11 seasons with the Bengals.
12. Sunday, Nov. 26 at Oakland Raiders, 2:25 p.m.
The Black Hole is on the three-year, lame-duck plan before the Raiders move to Las Vegas. The Broncos probably won’t feel overly nostalgic playing in the antiquated Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.
13. Sunday, Dec. 3, at Miami Dolphins, 11 a.m.
Joseph spent last season as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator where the Broncos hope he got a good read on Adam Gase’s offense.
14. Sunday, Dec. 10, NEW YORK JETS, 2:05 p.m.
Sandwiched by four road games, the Broncos must take care of business at home against the ever-struggling Jets.
15. Thursday, Dec. 14, at Indianapolis Colts, 6:25 p.m.
The Broncos have the No. 1 toughest schedule based on 2016 records. The Colts have the 32nd toughest. If Andrew Luck is healthy, the Broncos know the Colts will be tough at home.
16. Sunday, Dec. 24 at Washington, 11 a.m.
Christmas Eve in our nation’s capital. Between Luck ($27 million) and Washington’s Kirk Cousins ($23.94 million), the Broncos will play back-to-back against the NFL’s two highest-paid offensive players in terms of 2017 money, a combined $50.94 million worth of quarterbacks.
17. Sunday, Dec. 31, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, 2:05 p.m.
The first modest goal for the 2017 Broncos would be for this game to matter to their playoff hopes.