The Pittsburgh Steelers open their 2012 season the same way their 2011 season ended; against the Denver Broncos. However, the team names are almost the only similarities between the two games.
The Broncos team that beat the Steelers in the playoffs last year were led by Tim Tebow. But make no mistake, this Broncos team is without question Peyton Manning’s team.
Peyton Manning will make his regular season debut with the Broncos on national TV in a night game against the Steelers.
All eyes will be on Peyton, who will be playing in his first real game since January, 2011. Since that time he’s received multiple neck surgeries, and fans are anxious to see whether he’s still the Peyton Manning that they remember.
Of course, the Steelers aren’t going to go easy on Manning, despite his injury problems. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the LaMarr Woodley and Chris Carter will go after Manning like sharks who smell blood in the water. Any sign of weakness on Manning’s part will send them into a feeding frenzy.
The Steelers are going to have question marks of their own.
On offense, this will be the first regular season game for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Steelers fans will finally get to see what happens when Haley’s offense is unleashed on a real starting NFL defense.
Haley also has to contend with a depleted running game. Neither Rashard Mendenhall nor Isaac Redman are 100% healthy. Mendenhall probably won’t play at all on Sunday. And depending on how healthy Redman is, the Steelers may have to rely on Jonathan Dwyer to carry the majority of the rushing workload. Dwyer was the Steelers’ leading rusher during the preseason, but he hasn’t proven himself during the regular season yet.
Haley will also have to work with Mike Wallace in the starting lineup, despite missing the entire preseason due to a contract holdout. Wallace says that he’s been studying Haley’s offense, but this is the first time that he’ll take any actual snaps in the new system.
The Steelers’ defense will also face challenges. Star linebacker James Harrison is still recovering from a knee injury and won’t play on Sunday. Safety Ryan Clark also won’t play due to his sickle cell disease.
Despite being shorthanded, the Steelers’ defensive unit is still one of the best in the NFL. I think they’ll be more than capable of containing Manning. But I don’t think the same about Denver’s defense. The Steelers’ offense has too many weapons. If the offensive line can hold up their end of the deal, I think the Steelers offense has the potential to cause nightmares for Denver’s defense.
Las Vegas says that Denver is the favorite in this game. But I’m going to disagree with that assessment. I’m going with the Steelers to win 27-17. Go Steelers!