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Peyton Manning faces tough tests early in Denver

We already knew the Denver Broncos' 2012 schedule looked brutal on paper. We also know that "on paper" doesn't mean much in the NFL.

With that in mind, here are some general thoughts on Denver's schedule in Peyton Manning's first season with the team.

Starting out at home

The schedule makers seemed to recognize the Broncos' tough slate and made up for it with three of their first four games at home. That's the good news. The bad news is that those four matchups don't feature any team with a losing record from a year ago: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston and Oakland.

Living in prime time

The bad news -- especially for a coaching staff that wants a regular schedule -- is that the Broncos play their first two games in prime time. They play four of their first seven games in prime time. (It's almost like the schedule makers feared a Peyton Manning injury.)

Denver will play on Thursday, Sunday and Monday night. It will play in prime time five times overall, which is the maximum for this original schedule release.

Division schedule is backloaded

The Broncos will have to survive against their brutal non-division schedule before worrying too much about the AFC West. Only one of their first five games and two of their first nine games are against division foes.

Six playoff opponents in the first eight games

Every out-of-division game in the first half of the season features a 2011 playoff team. It doesn't get much tougher than that. On paper.

Manning versus Brady comes early

We're accustomed to seeing Colts versus Patriots around midseason, usually on "Sunday Night Football." CBS gets the first Brady vs. Manning matchup involving the Broncos, and it comes in Week 5. The Broncos go from Foxborough to San Diego before a Week 7 bye.

The short term: Survive the initial gauntlet of games at 3-3 or better. It won't be easy.

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