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Season opener a must win for Broncos (unless it's not)

Denver plays game 1 Sunday against New York Giants. Roster adjustments by first-year GM Paton should help Fangio in his third year as head coach.

In each of the eight seasons the Broncos finished by playing in the Super Bowl, they won their season opener.

So game 1 is big.

Then again in Vance Joseph’s two seasons as head coach in 2017-18, the Broncos not only won their opener, they started 2-0 in each. Only to finish 5-11 and 6-10.

So game 1, is big unless it’s not.

The importance of the Broncos’ 2021 regular-season opener Sunday afternoon against the New York Giants in MetLife Stadium has intensified because Denver under head coach Vic Fangio started poorly the past two seasons. 0-4 in 2019 followed by 0-3 in 2020. The Broncos never recovered from those poor starts, which puts pressure on Fangio to win sooner and more this year.

And in an interview with 9NEWS in late-July he admitted to feeling the pressure to start fast.

“Yeah. We do. But no more than we feel any other season other than it’s going to be talked about more here,’’ Fangio said then. “Yeah, we want to get off to a great start. I hear people say the games in November and December are the meaningful games. But if you don’t do the work in September and October than those games aren’t as meaningful. Yeah, we expect to get off to a better start. We’re hoping to. We want to. That’s the focus.”

Super Bowl starts

The Broncos’ record before suffering their first loss in each of their 8 Super Bowl-appearing seasons:

1977: 6-0

1986: 6-0

1987: 1-0-1

1989: 3-0

1997: 6-0

1998: 13-0

2013: 6-0

2015: 7-0

Fangio is counting on the poised efficiency of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and a defense stacked with big-name talent on its perimeter to alter the Broncos’ recent slow-start trend. Bridgewater, 28, beat out incumbent Drew Lock, 24, for the starting job after a summer-long competition.

“You want to change the narrative around here,’’ Bridgewater said Wednesday, “and we get an opportunity to do that this upcoming Sunday.”

Aside from the cornerback position, first year general manager George Paton didn’t make wholesale changes to the Broncos’ starting lineup. On offense, he added Bridgewater, switched out Phillip Lindsay as the 1B running back for rookie Javonte Williams, and adjusted to another season-ending development to right tackle Ja’Wuan James by bringing in veteran Bobby Massie on a discounted, one-year deal.

Otherwise, Paton is counting on the return from injury by Courtland Sutton and another year of maturation from the likes of Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Noah Fant at the skill positions, and Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry III up front to boost an offense that scored just 20.2 points per game last year.

Paton’s most impressive work was at cornerback where the Broncos played their final four games last season without their top three players. Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and Pat Surtain II more than addressed the issue, giving Denver’s D an elite cover group to go along with safeties Justin Simmons and Bradley Chubb and outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb (who is questionable to play against the Giants because of an ankle injury).

But while names can seem impressive when read, it’s how the players perform on Sunday that counts. There are 16 Sunday games on the Broncos’ season this season and one on Thursday night at Cleveland. And while they all count the same, game 1 always seems to matter more. Unless it doesn’t.

“I like this football team,’’ Paton said. “I like the way they work, I like our depth. I like our coaches and we’ll see what happens in the regular season.”

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