2016 Denver Broncos game-by-game predictions

How will Broncos' fare in 2016? (2:36)

Brian Dawkins predicts the Broncos' record for the 2016 season. (2:36)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have the schedule befitting a defending Super Bowl champ with the league’s opener on Sept. 8 -- a rematch with the Carolina Panthers -- to go along with five prime-time games and yet another regular-season matchup with the New England Patriots. It will be the sixth consecutive season the teams have played in the regular season. They have played again in the playoffs in three of those years.

Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 8, vs. Carolina Panthers, 8:30 p.m. ET

A Super Bowl rematch almost seven months to the day from the Broncos’ 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50. The Broncos last faced the Panthers in regular season in 2012 -- John Fox’s second season as Broncos coach and Peyton Manning’s first season with the team -- and the Panthers haven’t played in Denver since 2004, a 20-17 Broncos' win. Record: 1-0.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18, vs. Indianapolis Colts, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Colts handed the Broncos one of their four regular-season losses in 2015 -- 27-24 on Nov. 29 in Indianapolis -- and the Colts earned a playoff win in Denver to close out the Broncos’ 2014 season. It means the Broncos will face two quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall in the draft -- Cam Newton and Andrew Luck -- to open their Super Bowl defense. Record: 2-0.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25, at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

The Bengals had a frustrating finish to their 2015 season with a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The last time the Broncos faced the Bengals -- a 20-17 overtime win for Denver in December -- Andy Dalton didn’t play at quarterback because of injury and Brock Osweiler started for the injured Peyton Manning. Both teams figure to be far healthier this time around. Record: 2-1.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:05 p.m. ET

This will be the Broncos’ first in-person look at Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and the first trip to Tampa since 2004. The Broncos have faced the Buccaneers eight times over the franchise’s history -- Denver is 6-2 in those games with the Buccaneers’ two wins coming in 1993 and 1999. Record: 3-1.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9, vs. Atlanta Falcons, 4:05 p.m. ET

A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge, but the last time the Broncos faced the Falcons -- Sept. 17, 2012 -- some folks actually were wondering if the whole Manning-at-quarterback idea was going to work after he threw four interceptions in the Week 2 loss to Atlanta. However, the Broncos went 12-2 the rest of the way in that regular season and the rest turned into one of the most successful runs in franchise history. Record: 4-1.

Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 13, at San Diego Chargers, 8:25 p.m. ET

This will be the Broncos' first AFC West game. The Broncos have won the past five meetings with the Chargers and nine of the past 10 overall, including one playoff game. The only San Diego win in that span was, 27-20 in Denver, during the 2012 regular season and came on a Thursday night. Record: 5-1.

Week 7: Monday, Oct. 24, vs. Houston Texans, 8:30 p.m. ET

In the era of free agency, each week in an NFL season features several former players facing their former teams, but this one will carry a little more zest. Brock Osweiler left the Broncos in free agency for the greener financial pastures the Texans offered -- a four-year, $72 million deal -- and made no secret he was looking for a fresh start. The Broncos defense will remember that whole "Texans gave him a better chance for success" thing. Record: 6-1.

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, vs. San Diego Chargers, 4:05 p.m. ET

Given this will be the second time in a 17-day span the Broncos face the Chargers, they won’t need to dig too far into the video archives to see what the Chargers are up to on offense and defense. The two Chargers games mark the Broncos’ start into the AFC West portion of the schedule. With the two San Diego games, the Broncos will play all six of their division games over their last 11 weeks. Record: 7-1.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, at Oakland Raiders, 8:30 p.m. ET

When the Broncos saw Raiders defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack last December, he was busy running past whatever blocker was in front of him on the way to five sacks. It was a third of Mack’s 15 sacks for the season and was one of the most glaring displays of the struggles the Broncos had in their offensive line for much of the 2015 season. The Raiders feel as if they are poised to compete for a division title and this could be a measuring stick. Record: 7-2.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

This will be the Broncos' first trip to New Orleans since 2004, and given the schedule rotations it just might be the last time the team faces Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Ironically, Brees may not have signed with the Saints in free agency in 2006 had he not injured his throwing shoulder against the Broncos in the 2005 regular-season finale. Record: 8-2.

Week 11: BYE

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET

The last time the Chiefs were in Denver, it was a season-changing experience for the Broncos. Manning, with 35 yards passing and four interceptions in the game, was pulled because it was clear he could no longer function because of his left foot injury. Manning missed the next seven starts, but Denver composed itself for a Super Bowl run. Record: 9-2.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET

This one sits right in the upset wheelhouse for the Broncos. Much like their loss to the Raiders last December, their loss at Cincinnati in December 2014 and their loss to the Chargers in December 2013, there always seems to be a bobble in the pre-holiday season. Put a game in the early time slot, in the Eastern time zone, against a coach in Gus Bradley whose defensive scheme has given the Broncos some trouble in the recent past, and all of the elements are there. Record: 9-3.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

Given Broncos coach Gary Kubiak spent nine seasons as the Houston Texans' coach, there won’t be much about this trip he won’t already know. It will be the team's first trip back to Music City since September 2011 -- John Fox’s first season as Broncos coach -- and the team had not yet made the move to Tim Tebow at quarterback. Record: 10-3.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, vs. New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m. ET

For the first time in four seasons, the overriding narrative is not whether Manning or Tom Brady has had a better career. No, this time will offer a new page and could be the preview, if things go the way each team expects, of yet another postseason meeting. The Broncos and Patriots have faced each other in the regular season and postseason in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Both of the Broncos’ Super Bowl trips in the past three seasons have come with wins over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Record: 10-4.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 25, at Kansas City Chiefs, 8:30 p.m. ET

A stretch-drive game between these two longtime rivals on Christmas night means the Broncos will face an Arrowhead crowd at its throaty best. The Broncos needed a stunning fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Bradley Roby to win the last time they played in Kansas City. Record: 10-5.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, vs. Oakland Raiders, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Broncos will ring in the New Year and may need this win to secure their playoff seeding, or perhaps even get themselves a home game to open their hoped-for postseason. If the Broncos aren’t in the playoff conversation at this point, then things have gone terribly wrong and a team Kubiak has said has the potential to be "very, very good" didn’t live up to its billing. Record: 11-5.