Week 1: @ Broncos
This opening weekend match up featuring two division rivals who genuinely dislike each other should be one to watch. It’s about as big as a week-one contest can be given that the victor claims a one-game lead in what promises to be a tightly contested division. Both teams have a rough 2017 schedule creating a sense of urgency to get off to a fast start and maintain pace in what has become the NFL’s toughest division.
Though they remain formidable at home, especially on defense, the Broncos might be no more than the fourth best team in the brutal, AFC West. Without an established, franchise quarterback to run the offense, they’ll rely on a defense that can still dominate, limiting mistakes on offense, and winning the turnover battle in order to win games in 2017.
Starting quarterback, Trevor Siemian, continues to develop and can be dangerous. His ability to make something out of nothing with his feet will keep many drives alive this year. But he still needs a lot of help around him and must continue to stay within himself to be successful. During the preseason, Siemian was efficient against the Bears and 49ers but struggled to get anything going against the Packers.
He will have plenty of help, though. The potent running back tandem of Jamaal Charles and CJ Spiller will take a lot of the pressure off the youngster. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders provide Siemian with two, dependable, top-quality targets at wide receiver. Much like the Chargers, how well Denver’s retooled offensive line comes together will be a key factor in their success this season. Rookie, Garett Bolles will likely start at left tackle and right tackle could be manned by Manchester native, Menelik Watson.
The Chargers’ revamped offensive line will have their hands full as well. Look for Denver to try and exploit the inexperience at center and right guard on defense. Also expect Denver to work the middle of the field on passing downs, throwing a lot of short and intermediate routes to the HB and TE. Depth at middle linebacker and right guard for the Chargers is already paper thin.
If the Broncos win this game, it will be because they effectively attacked these two areas of weakness. Denver is playing at home and their defense should prevent the Chargers’ explosive offense from running away with it. But the Chargers are the more balanced team with a big advantage at quarterback, an impressive amount of fire power on offense, and a rising defense with top-five potential. The Chargers will be relatively healthy going in and, as a result, should prove too much for the Broncos on Monday night.
Unlike last season, when the two teams met at Sports Authority Field, the Broncos will have to contend with the Chargers at near full strength. The rematch will feature Jason Verrett in place of Steve Williams at RCB, and Keenan Allen instead of Dontrelle Inman at WR. Broncos cast-off Russel Okung provides a major upgrade over King Dunlap and Matt Slauson slides over to LG where the mercifully departed Orlando Franklin stunk it up so bad a year ago.
Vaughn Miller versus the right side of the Chargers’ offensive line. Vaughn Miller is licking his chops right now.
Melvin Ingram versus rookie left tackle, Garett Bolles. Melvin Ingram is also licking his chops right now.
Joey Bosa versus right tackle Menelik Watson. Yikes.
Siemian versus the Chargers’ defensive backs. Don’t expect the Broncos to test the Chargers’ secondary, they’ll look to take what they can get underneath while the Chargers try to keep everything in front of them on defense.
Philip Rivers versus the Broncos’ secondary. Expect Rivers to do a better job protecting the football this year in Denver. Improved pass protection, a healthy Keenan Allen, and Coach Lynn’s emphasis on not turning the ball over should keep Rivers from pressing.
Though overmatched on paper, the Broncos defense and home-field advantage will give Denver a chance. The Chargers are on the road, led by a rookie head coach, breaking in a retooled offensive line and a freshly tweaked running game. They’re also adjusting to a new defensive scheme (3-4 to 4-3) and philosophy under new DC, Gus Bradley.
But Philip Rivers will not be as easily harassed this time around and the Broncos are not built to come from behind. If Trevor Siemian can offset the pass rush with screens, keep the pass rush honest with his feet, and create mismatches in the passing game with his running backs it will be even harder for the Bolts to pull the upset. On the other hand, if Rivers is allowed to get comfortable and the Broncos new additions at offensive tackle get manhandled by Bosa and Ingram, it could get ugly.