Broncos have plenty of hills still to climb

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the schedule is unveiled each spring what often looks difficult then can unravel into something else because of a rash of injuries or ill-timed turnovers.

And what once looked easy can turn out to be anything but because of a couple worst-to-first teams that seem to arrive on the scene in each NFL year.

But as the Denver Broncos have formally exited their bye week at 2-1 and continue to wade through the opening half of this year’s schedule, what looked difficult last spring still looks plenty arduous right now.

“The last three weren’t exactly cupcakes,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said this week when asked about what's coming on the docket. “I think when we looked at the schedule, six out of the first eight were playoff teams from a year ago and the team coming to town [this Sunday] somehow didn’t make the playoffs. Obviously it was the rules but they were 10-6, very, very good football team that’s sitting at 3-0.’’

The Cardinals, at 3-0 and one of just two undefeated teams in the league (with Cincinnati), will arrive in Denver this weekend as the fourth team the Broncos have faced in four games this season that won at least 10 games in 2013.

The Bronco are already the only team in the league to have faced three teams that won at least 11 games last season in the first three games.

“Every week I think we just get ready for teams’ best shot,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We want to play the best because we know what kind of team we have and what kind of team we want to be.’’

“Just because of the team we have, we know we have to be at our best, that we’re going to get everything people have,’’ defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ demolition of the New England Patriots on Monday night adds at least some luster to the Broncos’ Week 2 win over the Chiefs as does what Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has done -- 11 touchdown passes, one interception -- since the Broncos’ opening week win over Indianapolis.

But the Broncos’ next five games will say a lot about where they are as a team and where they hope to go, starting with Sunday’s visit by the Cardinals’ to Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

The Cardinals are fifth in the league in total defense -- 316.3 yards allowed per game -- and No. 2 in points allowed at 15.0 per game. The Cardinals also have not one, but two, former up-close-and-personal coaches for Peyton Manning in current Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, a former Colts quarterbacks coach early in Manning’s career, and former longtime Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who is now the Cardinals’ assistant head coach/offense.

“Bruce [Arians] has done a great job with that football team,’’ Fox said. “They’ve got very good players really in all three phases and it will be a tough, tough test here in Denver.”

Following the Cardinals game, the Broncos have an early time slot game -- at least for their body clocks -- against the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium, and the early kickoff in the Eastern time zone has been a trouble spot from time to time through the years for the Broncos.

The Broncos then face the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers in a four-day span -- and that's with the memory of last year's Thursday night stumble against the Chargers lastr season, the Broncos' only home loss in '13 -- before a trip to face the Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts. And while the decline of the Patriots' dynasty was a popular topic Tuesday in the wake of the Chiefs’ blowout win, the fact is the Broncos have lost their last four games in Gillette Stadium, including a playoff game to close out the 2011 season.

“We just have to go week to week, game to game, you can’t look down the road or any of that,’’ Knighton said. “You can lose any game you don’t get ready to play. We don’t want to be in a position where we look up and say we didn’t get every win we could.’’