The Denver Broncos aren’t in the same situation as your typical reigning Super Bowl champions. Heading into the 2016 season, the Broncos not only lost both quarterbacks Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning, but they also lost multiple defensive players as well. In order for them to repeat as champions, they’ll need either Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, or possibly rookie Paxton Lynch to step up when the regular season begins.
To go along with that, the running game needs a good balance to ease the pressure off the passing game. With a season with multiple question marks on the horizon, which five teams should the Broncos be most worried about in 2016? Let’s look at the opponents that could derail Denver’s five-straight postseason berths.
1. Carolina Panthers, Week 1
Why not start in Week 1? The Panthers are heading into this game — even on the road — with a massive chip on their collective shoulder and a focus on getting revenge from their Super Bowl loss against the Denver Broncos. It’s a primetime, season-opening game on Thursday night, September 8. With the world watching, Cam Newton and the Panthers will probably do almost anything to avoid losing back-to-back games to the Broncos.
Not only do the Panthers have Newton, but they’ll enter the season with a healthy Kelvin Benjamin; an offense that will continue to click from the word “go”; and a defense that’s still loaded with talent, even if cornerback Josh Norman is no longer a part of it. If there’s one team that the Denver Broncos should be most concerned about, it’s the Panthers, who are absolutely one of the favorites to return to the Super Bowl in 2016–17.
2. Cincinnati Bengals, Week 3
Yes, the Bengals have made the playoffs in five straight seasons, as well as six of the last seven. Over that span, they’ve won at least 10 games in five of the seven years. Unfortunately, the Bengals haven’t been able to make it out of the wild card round even once. While that’s concerning, it doesn’t change the fact that the Bengals have an excellent offense with a great defense to go along with that. They’re doing something right, at least in the regular season, and there’s no question that Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill could cause some issues for the Denver Broncos early in the season.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars, Week 13
There would be far less reason for concern if this game was at home for the Broncos, but it is an away game. To go along with that, the Jaguars added quite a few free-agent pieces this offseason and bolstered an impressive young offensive core that includes Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns. Former Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson signed with the Jaguars this offseason, but he’s just one of the many free-agent additions for the team, which helps set them up nicely to contend for a playoff spot. It’s a pretty safe bet that the Jaguars should have any early-season kinks worked out by this point. They should give the Denver Broncos quite a run in Week 13.
4. New England Patriots, Week 15
The good news for the Broncos? This Week 15 matchup against the Patriots is in Denver. The bad news? Tom Brady will be pretty angry this year after dealing with a four-game suspension. Any time you have to play Brady and the Patriots, it’s not something you look forward to. The Broncos and Patriots have put together an impressive rivalry over the years, though, and the fact that this game is at home in Denver is important. The Broncos can absolutely beat the Patriots in this game, but it may be one of their toughest tasks in many seasons due to the fact that New England could very well be right in the mix with every other AFC team for the playoffs and playoff positioning.
5. Kansas City Chiefs, Week 16
The Chiefs are getting closer and closer to the Broncos; it’s been a long time coming. After winning 10 straight games last season, Kansas City looks like the real deal. They’re healthy entering the year, and they have a well-rounded offense and a superb defense. The Chiefs not only get the Broncos at home in Week 16, but it’s also a primetime game on Sunday Night Football as well. Expect the Chiefs defense to be swarming against the Broncos. Denver may need a stellar performance from their offense in order to pull off this late-season road game.