The Broncos come out of their bye fresh and ready to take on what amounts to the second quarter of their 2017 schedule. While they open this four-game run with a home game against the pillow-soft New York Giants, even a big Broncos win doesn’t necessarily mean that Denver’s ready to put things in cruise control — three road games with big divisional matchups and tough teams await.
Vs. New York Giants (Sunday, Oct. 15, 6:30 p.m.)
The first game coming out of the bye week is shaping up to be one of the Broncos’ easiest of the season. The Giants are winless after limping away from a tough game against the Chargers with freakish, devastating injuries to their receiving corps. Perennial Pro-Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. and fellow starter (and former Bronco) Brandon Marshall suffered broken bones that ended their seasons. Backup Dwayne Harris will join them after an ankle injury of his own. Sterling Shepard left the game with — guess what — an injured ankle, but might be able to play on Sunday.
Nevertheless, the now-crippled Giants offense will face an Everest-sized challenge in the Broncos’ defense. To make things worse, the Giants possess one of the worst-ranked defenses in the league, ranking at 28th overall, including the league’s 29th-ranked rushing defense, who will have to contain a dynamic duo of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who spearhead the Broncos’ eighth-ranked rushing attack.
At Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, Oct. 22, 2:25 p.m.)
In the second and final game of the season series against the Chargers, the Broncos will be looking for a repeat result of the opening-week matchup that saw the Broncos start 1-0 after a closer-than-it-should-have-been 24-21 victory.
The Broncos managed to hold Chargers running back Melvin Gordon to only 54 rushing yards, and he hasn’t really gotten traction since, rushing for 219 yards in total and two touchdowns in the four games after their loss in Denver.
It’s worth noting that kicker Younghoe Koo, who missed the potential game-tying field goal with five seconds left on the clock, has been cut by the Chargers in favor of veteran kicker Nick Novak. Novak made both of his field goals and all three of his extra points in his season-debut against the Giants.
At Kansas City Chiefs (Monday, Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m.)
This may be the Broncos’ stiffest test of the season. The Chiefs are unquestionably the best and most complete team in the NFL, but Denver will have a chance to keep the AFC West leaders within hailing distance if they can steal a victory in one of the most challenging road environments in football.
Kansas City has the second-best offense in the league through five weeks. Breakout rookie running back Kareem Hunt leads the way with 609 yards — that’s an incredible average of 121.8 yards per game — and four touchdowns. Quarterback Alex Smith, who’s never played better, is third in the league in passing yards (1,391) and touchdowns (11).
The Broncos will counter with the league’s top defense, leading the way in yards per game (260.8) thanks to their shockingly stalwart rushing defense. The Broncos give up only 50.8 yards per game on the ground — better than second-place Minnesota’s 71.3 yards by 40 percent — and they have yet to allow a rushing touchdown on the season.
At Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, Nov. 5, 11:00 a.m.)
This matchup against the high-flying Eagles will mark the Broncos third matchup against an NFC East team this season, and the Broncos’ ‘No-Fly Zone’ will have their hands full against Philadelphia, who are ranked third offensively through the first five weeks of the season. Rapidly-improving, second-year quarterback Carson Wentz leads the way, ranking sixth in the league in passing yards (1,362).
The Eagles aren’t the Chiefs, however; their defense has been their Achilles’ heel. Giving up an average of 346 yards per game, they rank 24th in the NFL. However, a majority of that comes through the air. The Eagles’ rush defense is ranked fourth, only giving up 62.8 yards per game and three touchdowns through the first five weeks. The Broncos, who don’t want Trevor Siemian throwing 40 passes in any outing, will need to establish a better ground game then any team the Eagles have faced yet.
If the Broncos can return to Denver after this lengthy road trip with three — or even four — wins, they’ll not only find themselves in the driver’s seat for a postseason berth, but may even find themselves challenging the mighty Chiefs for AFC West supremacy.