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Home Of 500 Handicappers
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
Peyton Manning moving to the Denver Broncos and his recovery from multiple neck surgeries was one of the big stories of the offseason. On Sunday night, Manning and the Broncos will get a real look at just how far the four-time NFL MVP has come in his recovery when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers. This version of Denver, with Manning instead of Tim Tebow under center, is very different from the team that knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs last winter – at least offensively. The defense, which sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and picked him off once, remains largely intact. The Steelers will throw a defense at Manning that led the NFL last season while surrendering only 171.9 passing yards per game.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (2011: 12-4): Pittsburgh finished 21st in scoring at 20.3 points in 2011 and let offensive coordinator Bruce Arians leave in the offseason, replacing him with former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. The first order of business for Haley will be protecting Roethlisberger and his running backs, who have been operating behind a line with several holes. Roethlisberger has been sacked 122 times in the last seasons. Haley has installed sets with two tight ends and a fullback to help with protection and provide extra weapons beyond wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. The defense returns intact and a year older, though starting free safety Ryan Clark will miss the opener due to a sickle-cell trait that is aggravated at high altitude.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (2011: 8-8): Tebow provided plenty of excitement for Denver fans in 2011, but Manning brings the prospect of consistent production from the passing game. Wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas give Manning a strong set of targets while Willis McGahee and Lance Ball headline the running game. Thomas provided the picture that the Steelers saw all offseason, breaking for an 80-yard touchdown in overtime in the playoffs. The less-talked about addition to the Broncos was former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who takes over as defensive coordinator. Del Rio has a pair of ends in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil that combined for 21 sacks last season. Each pulled down Roethlisberger once in the playoff win.
1. The Broncos defense will not have LB D.J. Williams, who has been suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
2. Manning is 2-1 with six touchdowns and four interceptions in three career regular-season games against Pittsburgh.
3. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 4-1 in season openers.