After an entire season removed from meaningful football, future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning makes his return to the field Sunday night with his new team, the Denver Broncos. Manning had a decent pre-season for the Broncos but wasn’t tested all that much, something that should definitely change as he takes on the always tough, Pittsburgh Steelers.
These two teams met last season in the opening round of the playoffs with the Broncos scoring a dramatic overtime victory. That win of course came off the back of former quarterback Tim Tebow, who is now with the Jets. Now the fate of the Denver offense remains firmly in the hands of a solid, but ageing, Peyton Manning. The Broncos possess a solid defense, and if their offense can improve its production, this is certainly a team that could win a wide-open AFC West. Denver has an incredibly difficult schedule in 2012, but if Manning plays like he did during his Indianapolis days, the Broncos could be in for a lengthy post-season run.
The Steelers meanwhile remain one of the most steady franchises in all of professional sport. Pittsburgh quietly goes about their business, and always seem to hover around the top of the NFL standings. Expect this year to be no different for coach Mike Tomlin’s squad, as the Steelers will again contend for the always competitive AFC North crown. Though the Steelers have had some injuries during their pre-season, most notably to key centre David DeCastro and star linebacker James Harrison, depth is a strong suit of this club, and Pittsburgh always seems to find ways to get the job done.
Steelers vs. Broncos Spread and Betting Odds:
Pittsburgh Steelers +1 (+100)
@ Denver Broncos -1 (-120)
Over 45.5 (-110)
Under 45.5 (-110)
–> Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv <–
Steelers vs. Broncos Pick:
This match certainly makes for quite the exciting beginning to NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage. The model of consistency in Pittsburgh will do battle with an emerging squad led by their new star quarterback in the Denver Broncos. It’s an intriguing match-up to mark the commencement of yet another NFL season, and one in which should represent the final chapter in Peyton Manning’s great football-playing career.
Much scepticism and critique has greeted Manning’s arrival in Denver, and expect Manning to silence the doubters come Sunday evening. Though it’s not the ideal start in having to play the Steelers’ heralded defense, Pittsburgh will be without key personnel in Denver as both Ryan Clark and James Harrison will not suit up.
Harrison is slated to be on the sidelines Sunday evening as he has yet to recover from a knee injury. The linebacker is an adept pass rusher and without his presence, look for Manning to have ample time and space to ease himself into a nice, uninterrupted throwing rhythm.
Meanwhile, underrated safety Ryan Clark will also not play in Denver as a result of the potentially damaging health risks he endures when in high altitude conditions. Losing Clark is massive for the Broncos and Manning’s passing attack. It was Clark who led Pittsburgh in tackles last season, and is the general of the Pittsburgh secondary. Clark also sat out during last season’s playoff game in Denver, and Pittsburgh was burned through air on countless occasions as a result. Yes, by the aforementioned Tim Tebow, so you can only imagine what Manning could potentially do.
Manning will also be well-protected this season by one of the top units in the NFL. When Manning is allowed a few extra seconds to view the field in the pocket, there’s not a defense in the league that can stop him, Pittsburgh included.
Expect this to be a big night for Manning in front of his new Denver fans in what should be one rowdy atmosphere. The Denver defense is loaded with speed and ferocity and will take advantage of a weakened Pittsburgh offensive line devoid of David DeCastro. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will put a ton of pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, forcing him into ill-advised throws and poor decisions.
Lastly, the Pittsburgh offence looked stagnant throughout the pre-season and may take some time before they start firing on all cylinders. The Steelers brought in Todd Haley as their new Offensive Coordinator in the off-season and implementing his new approach won’t be easy to do on the road against a solid defence. Additionally, star wide-out Mike Wallace held out the majority of training camp over a contract dispute, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the speedster be rusty in game action.
Look for this encounter to be a tightly contested battle between two teams with high aspirations on the season. Though the Steelers are more of a certainty to reach the play-offs, their key injuries on both sides of the ball give a sizable edge to Peyton Manning and the Broncos for this particular game. Expect a solid outing from Manning, greatly impressing one of the most electric home crowds in the NFL. Take the Broncos in a Sunday evening thriller.
PICK = Broncos -1 (-120)