After the regular season came to a close on January 8, 2023, the NFL announced who the Denver Broncos’ opponents would be next season.
At first glance, the AFC West opponents stand out as the toughest competition to beat. The Kansas City Chiefs are the reigning division champions for the 6th consecutive season, and the Los Angeles Chargers are going to the playoffs for the first time with quarterback Justin Herbert. Game dates will be announced later in the year.
The quickest way to reach the playoffs is winning the division, which the Broncos hope to accomplish with a new head coach that can do better than a 1-5 record against the AFC West. When the NFL added the Week 18 game, it would be against an opponent from the opposite conference that finished in the same place in their division. The Washington Commanders were selected to be that team.
The Commanders are very similar to the Broncos, with both teams hitting the reset button on what was hoped to be a promising season. Both franchises were dominant on defense for most of 2022, but their offenses could never be close to average. Washington and Denver finish 28th and 29th in total offensive DVOA with -12.4% and -13.0%, respectively. The only teams to finish worse than the Broncos were the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
Matching Up With the AFC East & NFC North
The AFC West teams will face every team from the AFC East and the NFC North. Both divisions present unique matchups for Denver. As it currently stands, the AFC East will be tough for Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense, whereas the NFC North is a stronger offensive division.
Anything can change with free agency and the draft, but the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and New England Patriots have proven to be among the best defenses in 2022. In total defensive DVOA, the Patriots are 3rd, the Bills are 4th and the Jets are 5th. The Bills are an outlier because they have a top-five offense with Josh Allen, but defensive-minded coaches lead the Patriots and Jets, so they emphasize being strong on that side of the ball.
Bill Belichick is an intelligent head coach who can neutralize an opponent’s greatest strength on offense. Fortunately for the Broncos, Wilson has a career record of 3-1 against Belichick, the only loss being Super Bowl 49. The Jets beat the Broncos this season 16-9 but now have to figure out their quarterback position if they want postseason success in the future. Zach Wilson hasn’t performed like the franchise quarterback, which might force New York to look outside their building at a free agent.
Only one team is representing the NFC North in the 2022 playoffs, but each opponent can be dangerous on offense and cause problems for the Broncos’ defense. The Minnesota Vikings have wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who led the NFL in receiving yards and catches this season and will be “must-see” television when he matches up with Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers might have new quarterbacks leading the offense, but both teams have enough young playmakers on offense they can build around for success. The true wild card will be to see what the Chicago Bears do in the offseason. They have the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft and the most amount of cap space to use heading into next season.
Quarterback Justin Fields is heading into his third season after making a massive jump in his development in year two. In 15 games, Fields finished with 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 1,143 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. The Bears’ offensive line allowed a league-leading 55 sacks on Fields, and if it’s not fixed, it would bode well for the Broncos pass rush. However, with better receivers around him and a re-tooled offensive line, Fields should become one of the elite players of his generation.
Record Prediction for 2023
As mentioned above, free agency and the NFL draft will persuade a prediction, given players that could move around. Where it stands with the current rosters of all 14 teams, the Broncos have an excellent chance to be better than in 2022.
Outside of the division opponents, the most challenging opponents will be the Bills, Jets, Vikings, and Commanders. If the Broncos’ offense struggles similarly to this season, that will not produce points against defenses like Washington and New York. The Bills could win the Super Bowl this year and have a wide window open for long-term success. Not to mention it will be Von Miller playing against his former team. In the second year of Kevin O’Connell’s scheme, the Vikings’ offense should be better and could end up being a shoot-out between Denver and Minnesota.
Broncos country should be happy with an early prediction of Denver making the playoffs with an 11-6 record for the first time since 2015. The Broncos are better than the Texans, Cleveland Browns, and Las Vegas Raiders and will win those games. They will split the series with the Chiefs and Chargers and pull an upset win over the Dolphins and Vikings.