In what promises to be the most anticipated matchup of week one, the Steelers travel to Denver to take on new Broncos QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Last year it was a classic as Tim Tebow led Denver to a crazy OT win in the wild card game, sending the Steelers, who had rallied in the game, home well before they felt they were ready.
Now they feel it’s time for revenge, but before they get ahead of themselves, they have injuries as well as a lot of turnover in their team with veteran leaders gone and a new OC that is running the show.
Todd Haley wants the team to run more, but that’s an issue with Issac Redmen banged up, and Rashard Mendenhall not ready yet despite being back on the practice field.
Ben Roethlisberger will try to spread the field with his group of WR’s, including Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders. He needs the big boys up front to play well so he has time to attack the Broncos secondary.
Manning wants to get off to a fast start, but it may not be easy against the Steelers D, a group that were the NFL’s stingiest defense, allowing 271.8 yards per game while going 12-4 in 2011.
Pittsburgh will be without linebackers James Harrison (knee) and Jason Worilds (wrist), and starting safety Ryan Clark will not play because the sickle cell trait he carries affects him at higher elevations. Harrison is unlikely to play after missing a second straight practice Friday.
One thing Pittsburgh should not expect is for Manning to constantly throw the ball after the Broncos averaged an NFL-best 164.5 rushing yards during their 8-8 season of 2011. Willis McGahee leads the way after running for 1,199 yards last year, while Lance Ball, rookie Ronnie Hillman and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno also are in the mix.
Look for it to be a shootout, similar to last years wild card game that saw both teams able to go up and down the field. Whatever team gets more of a pass rush could walk away with the win.
Denver at home has a big edge with the thin air, and Manning and their offense will feed off the crowd and emotion of his first game back. Look for a few too many Steeler mistakes, and the Broncos to land a week one win.
Denver 27 Pittsburgh 13