Denver Broncos schedule analysis

Breakdown: Denver Broncos coach John Fox will always caution against making judgments about a schedule based on what happened the year before. Regardless, it's easy to see the challenges that await the Broncos in 2014 and they won't have to wait very long to get right down to it. The Broncos' first three games are against three teams that made the playoffs in 2013 -- the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. They will face 2013 playoff teams in six of their first eight games. The opening eight-game stretch also includes the Arizona Cardinals, who did not make the NFC's playoff field last season despite a 10-6 record. The Broncos are also going to have be ready to finish strong on the road if they are going to add a fourth consecutive division title. They have three consecutive road games -- at New England, at Oakland and at St. Louis -- in November and play six of their last nine on the road.

Complaint department: OK, now I'm with Peyton Manning on this one. Manning has questioned whether some things in the NFL schedule are truly "random" and the almost annual trip to Foxborough, Mass., is starting to look like a non-random event. Sure, Tom Brady-Manning matchups are historical, but the Broncos wish more of those would happen in Denver. The Broncos have played the Patriots on the road in each of the previous three seasons, in 2011 season it was a playoff game, and 2014 will be the fourth. Since the start of the 2002 season the Broncos have played five regular-season games in Gillette Stadium and one playoff game. Also, the Broncos may not admit it, but they won't like the early bye week. They like the off week to hit close to the midpoint of the season, but this year get the off week in Week 4, before September had even drawn to a close.

Muscle up: With a flashback to the 2013 preseason, when the Broncos were pushed around a bit by the San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks, this year's regular-season slate will have that same physical flavor. And a team that has largely built its back-to-back 13-3 finishes on the precision and timing of its next-level passing attack, will have to be ready to roll up its sleeves and wrestle in the heavyweight division. The team has tried to add some grittiness to the defense this offseason in cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, they have made their intentions clear to try to run the ball more efficiently. To have a shot to get back to the Super Bowl, they'll need all of the above as the league's divisional rotation has them facing the NFC West. The Broncos will have to muscle their way through those games to win a fourth consecutive division title of their own.

Strength of schedule: 2nd, .570 | Vegas over/under: 11

Broncos Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Week 4: BYE

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.

Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 23, San Diego, 8:25 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at New England, 4:25 p.m.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Miami, 4:25 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.

Week 16: Monday, Dec. 22, at Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Oakland, 4:25 p.m.