Bill Parcells used to say that you are what your record says you are. In a lot of ways that’s true, but in the NFL, a team’s record doesn’t always tell the whole story. After all, in recent years we’ve seen teams that have won 15 or 16 games in the regular season not win the Super Bowl, while last year’s Super Bowl champions finished the regular season with a modest 9-7 record. Part of what determines a team’s record is the schedule they play: whom they play, where they play, and when they play them.
At the midway point in the season the Denver Broncos are 5-3, but that may not be who they are as much as it’s who the schedule has allowed them to be at this point in the season.
Over the first six games of the season the Broncos faced the toughest schedule in the NFL, based on winning percentage. Denver faced Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Houston in consecutive weeks to open the season, three teams that are a combined 20-4 at the midway point of the season. Despite a pair of close losses, the Broncos finished that three-game stretch with a 1-2 record, giving the perception that they were a mediocre team that might be able to compete in a weak AFC West, but that was far from being considered one of the AFC’s elite.
After a convincing win over Oakland, the Broncos finished off this six-game stretch with a long road trip to perennial contender New England and arguably their toughest intra-division game of the season at San Diego. Thanks in part to a second-half collapse by the Chargers, Denver managed a 3-3 record over their first six games of the season. Considering the difficulty of their early-season schedule, Denver was content to sit at 3-3 heading into their bye week, but it still wasn’t enough to stand out, even in their own division.
However, the script has now been flipped, as the Broncos will play the easiest schedule in the NFL over the final ten weeks of the season, based on winning percentage. Denver has already started to take advantage of that favorable schedule by beating New Orleans convincingly and winning a road game against a struggling Cincinnati team. Now with a 5-3 record, Denver has a one game lead in the AFC West and is getting some consideration as being a legitimate contender in the AFC.
The rest of the season the Broncos will play just one team that currently has a winning record. In fact, half of their remaining games are against teams with two or fewer wins at the midway point of the season. With their performance on the field improving on both sides of the ball each and every week, Denver is set up well to achieve a double-digit win total, win its division for the second consecutive year, and possibly compete for a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
While a difficult schedule early in the season forced a slow start and some skepticism for the 2012 Broncos, an easy schedule late may very well fuel another division title and a deep playoff run. So, if Parcells is right and you really are what your record says you are; then who are the Broncos? Well, they’re a team a fought through the NFL’s toughest schedule the first six weeks to get to 3-3 that’s now about to coast to a 12-4 record. The Broncos may or may not be a legitimate 12-4 team by season’s end, but that’s what the schedule will allow them to be, and according to Parcells, that’s all that matters.