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Broncos' 2021 schedule: To regain primetime prominence, beating last-place opponents a must

The Broncos' record 29 consecutive years on Monday Night Football comes to end. Denver has just one primetime game -- but five against last-place teams.

DENVER — The networks must not think the Broncos are getting Aaron Rodgers.

More alarming is the networks don’t think much of the Broncos at all.

The NFL released its schedules for all 32 teams Wednesday evening and what stood out on the Broncos’ order of opponents is the lack of primetime games.

The Broncos’ 29-year consecutive run on Monday Night Football, the longest-ever MNF streak? Over. No more.

In fact, the Broncos have just one primetime game among its 17 game schedule – and that’s a Thursday night gimme that all teams get as a primetime fallback. And that game is in Cleveland, for gosh sakes.

This is what happens when a team averages less than six wins the past four seasons and hasn’t made the playoffs since Obama was President.

"Most coaches and players for that matter, but coaches more so, will tell you that they’re happy with that because you don’t have to adjust your routine," Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said in an exclusive interview with 9NEWS after the schedule was revealed Wednesday evening. "We’re all creatures of habit, especially football coaches and players. So we kind of like that.

"But I believe it’s from week five till the end of the season you can always be flexed and hopefully we’re playing good enough to where they might consider flexing us a couple times."

As the Broncos fight to regain relevancy, they can be heartened with what appears to be a relatively easy schedule.

Because the Broncos finished last in the AFC West last season with a 5-11 record, the league’s competitive balance system loaded up their schedule with last-place teams from other divisions: Jaguars (1-15), Jets (2-14), Lions (5-11), Eagles (4-11-1) and Bengals (4-11-1). When the league expanded its schedule from 16 to 17 games this year, the Broncos’ extra game was against a last-place team, the Lions.

"There are no easy schedules in the NFL," Fangio said. "You know that. Everybody knows that. I don’t see Colorado School of Mines on here. But they’re all hard in the NFL. Last year’s last-place teams might be this year’s first-place teams. … You have that every year in the NFL. So to look at a schedule in May and say it’s easy or hard, it’s just topic of conversations that doesn’t have a lot of validity to it."

>>Video below: Mike Klis discusses the Denver Broncos 2021 schedule with Rod Mackey live on 9NEWS

Still, health permitting, there are no excuses for the Broncos in 2021. Expectations of a winning season – which requires nothing more than a 9-8 mark in this new 17-game era – are fair. They can start at the beginning. Vic Fangio in his two years as Broncos head coach started 0-4 in 2019 and 0-3 in 2020. That better not happen this year as the Broncos' first three games are against the 6-10 New York Giants and 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars on the road and the 2-14 New York Jets for Denver’s home opener at Empower Field at Mile High.

Yes, the Jags and the Jets in weeks two and three have the top two draft picks in quarterbacks, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, respectively. But No. 1 and No. 2 draft pick quarterbacks struggle, too. They’re still rookies.

"Everybody wants to get off to a good start no matter what you’ve done in the previous years," Fangio said. "We’ll do anything and everything we can to win that first game and then try to win the second game. But yeah, we do have to get off to a better start than we have the last two seasons, that’s for sure."

Credit: AP Images

Some highlights about the Broncos’ schedule:

  • It’s also advantageous that the cycle put all AFC West teams against the NFC East, a division won by Washington with a 7-9 record.
  • One more potential schedule break: The Broncos’ 17th game is home against the Kansas City Chiefs. There’s a chance the mighty Chiefs have their top playoff seed clinched by then and will rest Patrick Mahomes and other starters. The losing streak against the Chiefs, currently at 11 games, could end and perhaps should end during the 2021 schedule.
  • It’s the first time since 2003 the Broncos’ home opener wasn’t until week 3. And this is a year when the Broncos have 9 home games for the first time. It’s not the longest wait for a home game in team history. In 1961, the Broncos started with four road games. They then played six of their next seven games at home.
  • The schedule gets considerably more daunting after the first three games. The Broncos host Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in week 4, play at Pittsburgh in week 5, host the rival Raiders in week 6 and play at Baker’s Browns on Thursday night in week 7. That’s as tough as it gets.

"Three of the four were playoff teams last year and Vegas very easily could have been when they have one of the better offenses in the league," Fangio said. "So yeah, it’s a hard stretch but you look at any three or four games, it’s a hard stretch. In the NFL anybody can beat anybody. We just try to take them one at a time."

The Broncos’ bye week isn’t until week 11, later than usual even in an 18-week season.

"It’s good, I’ve never seen a bye week that I didn’t like," Fangio said. "Later in the season is usually better, especially if you’re can become a playoff team, it’s good to have a bye late in the season."

He mentioned how Tampa Bay was 7-5 going into their week 13 bye and then ran the table to win Super Bowl LV.

  • The payback for hosting the Chiefs in the season finale is the schedule makers couldn’t help making the Broncos play in Arrowhead in December. The Broncos are 3-21 all-time when they play the Chiefs on the road in December. This goes back to when the Chiefs were the Dallas Texans and the Broncos were 0-2 in December games there.
  • The most exciting game on their schedule? Week four against the Baltimore Ravens at Empower Field at Mile High. There is watching Lamar Jackson on television and there is witnessing his physical greatness in person. Mahomes is great, too, but Broncos fans must be a bit sick of him going sandlot to beat them game after game.
  • It’s kind of a big deal the Broncos will play against tight end Tim Tebow 10 years after his magical Will to Win season as their quarterback in 2011. But it would have been way bigger if the week two game against the Jaguars were in Denver -- where the last game he played here his walk-off, 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas shook the city from its balconies -- and not in Jacksonville.
  • Who says the Broncos won’t play deep into January? With the expanded schedule, the Broncos will play their final two regular-season games at the Chargers on Jan. 2, and home against the Chiefs on Jan. 9.
  • On a preseason note, look for the Broncos and Minnesota Vikings to possibly discuss holding joint practices in the week leading up to their week one preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Broncos general manager George Paton knows the Vikings' facility inside and out so there would be a comfort level. Such a joint operation would need league approval because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Here’s the Broncos’ 2021 schedule:

Preseason

Credit: KUSA Sports

Regular season

Credit: KUSA Sports

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