The week one match-up of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos is intriguing for several reasons (8.20pm EDT, Sunday). First off, it is QB Peyton Manning’s debut with the Denver offense and his return to the league after missing all of last season due to a neck injury and three neck surgeries.
Other than Manning however, the game will also feature Pittsburgh’s hopes to return to defensive prowess and answering the question of just how good Denver’s offense really is.
On top of that, the sportsbooks only have Denver favored by a mere one or two point spread which is the the tightest margin of any game tomorrow.
The atmosphere is going to be incredible considering the last time these two time met was in the 2011 Wildcard Round in the Playoffs.
Which Peyton Manning Will the Broncos See?
After making an unexpected playoff run last season behind the leadership of QB Tim Tebow, the Broncos are looking for more than just luck and a few well-timed field goals to get them back to the playoffs this year. They are looking for offensive consistency and in Manning, one of the best QBs in NFL history, they are hoping they have found that. The question is which Peyton will they see?
Although preseason results rarely turn out to have much meaning, the Broncos have no choice but to evaluate Manning’s potential to return to greatness by his preseason stats. After all, he missed all of last season and at 36-years-old, the question of whether or not he can actually come back to be the Manning of old is a pertinent one.
In evaluating his preseason, it really was a mixed bag. Although he started off slowly and struggled a bit throwing to his right side, by the end of the preseason Manning seemed to get stronger and more accurate. It even prompted NFL analyst Ron Jaworski to declare Manning: “back to form.”
For the Broncos, who really put all of their eggs in Manning’s basket, they are certainly hoping he can play at least close to his form from a just a few years ago when he won his third NFL MVP. Otherwise, with back-ups in Caleb Hanie and Brock Osweiler, they really are going to sink if the Manning ship goes down.
BetOnline Betting Lines (accepts all USA clients):
+100 Steelers +1pt; -120 Broncos -1pts
Bovada (all US except Maryland, Utah, NY, Washington):
-110 Steelers +2pts; -110 Broncos -2pts
Bet365 (for UK & all non-USA residents):
10/11 Steelers +2pts; 10/11 Broncos -2pts
In terms of this game against Pittsburgh, it all comes down to which Peyton the Broncos get. There are Willis McGahee, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Manning’s old TE from Indianapolis, Jacob Tamme, who are all solid offensive producers. So if Manning is at his best there is no reason to believe that the Broncos can’t have a chance against Pittsburgh.
Just How Good is the Steelers Offense Going to be in 2012?
QB Ben Roethisberger and WR Mike Wallace aside, the Steelers have a lot of unanswered question on offense. Most importantly, they should be worried about who is going to be taking snaps as the starting running back on Sunday.
Rashard Mendenhall, a reliable back and key component of the Steelers offense last season, is unlikely to start in the team’s first game of 2012. With a knee injury he sustained before the preseason, Mendenhall is officially listed as doubtful.
With Mendenhall out, the Steelers will have to improvise. Running backs, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer will probably all alternate in and out with Dwyer likely to get the majority of snaps. Still, this will be a downgrade from the production Mendenhall offers and will give the Broncos an easier time worrying about the pass-rush.
Other than the running back situation, the Steelers could face trouble in the passing game. Denver’s defense is not top-of-the-line but they can hold their own. One of the most notable things about this defense that could carry over is how behind Von Miller, the team got to Roethlisberger for five sacks in the playoffs last season.
The Steelers offensive line has not exactly been great over the years and Roethlisberger isn’t one of the better quarterbacks when it comes to movement in the pocket. For this reason, Denver, with a strong pass-rush was really able to get to and disturb the Pittsburgh QB. As a result, Denver took a six point win over the Steelers in the wildcard match-up.
Pittsburgh’s Secondary vs. Denver’s Defensive Line
For a match-up that won’t directly play out as a head-to-head, this will be something very interesting to follow and to consider when placing a bet on this game.
Led at the helm by pro bowl safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers still have one of the best secondaries in the NFL. What is interesting for Pittsburgh however is not that their defense was once again solid in 2011 but rather the way they went about holding opponents to low scoring games.
Last season the Steelers won 12 games. Spectacularly in all of these wins, the Steelers never gave up more than 20 points. The most they gave up in a loss was 35 to the Baltimore Ravens but in their other three losses they only gave up 17, 23 and 20 points.
Holding their opponents to less than 20 points is nothing new to a Pittsburgh defense. What is surprising however is that they did force nearly as many turnovers as they normally do. In fact, they only had 15 (11 interceptions) on the year, something that could bode well for Manning if the pattern continues.
Meanwhile, a team not worried about interceptions is Denver whose defensive strength comes in their line and getting to the QB in a more up-close-and-personal way.
Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are a great tandem on the line and both have their fair share of getting the QB. Miller, who some believe could be well on his way to a 20+ sack season, recorded 11.5 in 2011. Dumervil, who excelled in the Broncos 3-4 format, added another 9.5 sacks.
Steelers v Broncos Betting Picks Conclusion
The only way you can’t cover a less than three point spread, such as the one or two points the Broncos are favored, is to lose or tie the game. Neither of these is likely to happen.
Our betting pick: While the Steelers defense is still one of the best and will likely hold the Broncos under 21 points, the loss of Mendenhall on offense is going to be something the team can’t overcome. For that reason, in what should be a low scoring and close battle, bet on the Broncos -2pts to cover that spread @ odds of -110 with Bovada (allows all USA players except residents of NY, Maryland, Utah & Washington states) or BetOnline Sportsbook (takes all Americans).