As of this writing, HBO has not announced which team will be featured on "Hard Knocks" this summer, but this writer votes for the Denver Broncos without question. Either the team will have a heated quarterback competition between trade acquisition Teddy Bridgewater and incumbent Drew Lock, or Aaron Rodgers could be playing for Denver in what would still qualify as a stunner. The Broncos open the 2021 season at the New York Giants and are 1-point favorites on the NFL odds.
Needless to say, all odds surrounding the Broncos are going to change if Rodgers is acquired. The various sportsbooks still favor Rodgers to play for the Packers this season but also list Denver as the clear-cut favorite to be his 2021 team if he's not in Green Bay or retired. William Hill Sportsbook had given the Broncos an Over/Under of 7.5 wins but still has that off the board because of Rodgers.
Clearly the NFL/TV executives don't think Rodgers will end up in Denver considering the team has just one prime-time game, a Thursday night matchup in Cleveland. By comparison, the Packers have five prime-time games.
The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts 7.3 wins for Denver this year with either Bridgewater/Lock under center and 10.0 victories with Rodgers. The team's playoff chances would go from just 14.4 percent to 58.8 percent. William Hill has lowered many Broncos futures odds in possible anticipation of a trade – better to lower them now and take betting action than leave them sky-high and risk losing big money if the trade happens.
If no Rodgers, it will be a true split in terms of reps this summer for Bridgewater and Lock in an effort to win the starting job: "It will be something that at the end of the day, maybe not at the end of every day but over the course of OTAs and training camp, it'll be 50-50," Coach Vic Fangio.
Fangio's job is on the line this year as he's among the betting favorites to be the first coach fired with a 12-20 record in his two seasons and an impotent offense. Denver had a chance to take two promising QBs at No. 9 overall in this year's draft in Ohio State's Justin Fields or Alabama's Mac Jones but opted for Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II. The secondary could be a strength with Surtain and free-agent additions Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller.
Denver may also have gotten its featured running back of the future in Round 2 in trading up five spots to land North Carolina's Javonte Williams. He'll certainly slot behind Melvin Gordon in 2021 but then Gordon is a free agent. Former 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay was non-tendered by Denver.
The Broncos have a chance to get off to a good start with the first three games at the Giants, at the Jaguars and home to the Jets. The three teams combined to go 9-39 in 2020, and the Jaguars and Jets made the first two selections in the 2021 NFL Draft. When considering a Week 1 Broncos-Giants wager, know that Denver's .648 Week 1 winning percentage is tied with the Cowboys for the best mark in the league.
The Broncos' 2021 schedule is ranked as the 27th-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – hosting the Lions is the 17th game -- were a combined 127-143-2 last season.
Denver Broncos/William Hill Sportsbook odds
- 2020 record: 5-11 (9-7 against the spread, 8-8 Over/Under)
- 2021 strength of schedule rank: 27th (opponents' combined winning percentage of .471)
- 2021 Over/Under win total: 7.5
- SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 7.3
- Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +2000
- To win AFC: +1000
- To win AFC West: +475
- To make playoffs: No -200, yes +160
- NFL MVP odds: Drew Lock +8000, Teddy Bridgewater +15000
Denver Broncos Schedule
Week 1 at New York Giants: Broncos on five-game September road losing streak overall (1-4 ATS)
Week 2 at Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville has covered spread in five of past six meetings
Week 3 vs. New York Jets: Teams played last October at Jets and Denver rolled 37-28 as short dog
Week 4 vs. Baltimore Ravens: Broncos are 2-0 SU & ATS in past two at home in series (last in 2015)
Week 5 at Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh was -6.5 at home last season and won 26-21
Week 6 vs. Las Vegas Raiders: Broncos' four-game home win streak ended in wild 32-31 loss last year
Week 7 at Cleveland Browns (TNF): Cleveland's lone win in series since returning to NFL was in 2018
Week 8 vs. Washington Football Team: Broncos 5-5 ATS in past 10 October home games overall
Week 9 at Dallas Cowboys: Denver is 3-7 SU & ATS in past 10 November road games
Week 10 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Broncos 6-4 SU & ATS in past 10 vs. NFC East teams
Week 11 BYE
Week 12 vs. Los Angeles Chargers: Bolts have lost two straight and eight of past 10 in Denver
Week 13 at Kansas City Chiefs: KC has won past five at home in series but didn't cover last year
Week 14 vs. Detroit Lions: Denver has won seven of its past 10 overall vs. NFC North teams
Week 15 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati lost last meeting 24-10 at home in 2018
Week 16 at Las Vegas Raiders: Silver & Black are 5-0 SU & ATS in past five home meetings
Week 17 at Los Angeles Chargers: Under is 9-1 in the past 10 meetings with Chargers as home team
Week 18 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Broncos on seven-game ATS home skid in series (1-6 SU)
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