The Denver Broncos begin the Peyton Manning era (how long it will last is uncertain) Sunday night when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rematch of a crazy AFC playoff game from last January (8:20 pm Eastern, NBC).
Will replacing Tebow with Manning get Denver a similar result?
A Quick Review
Last year Denver eeked out just enough offense to win eight games, most in come-from-behind fashion. Now, eight wins doesn’t usually get an NFL team too far, but last year it was enough to win a very mediocre AFC West.
The magic continued into the first weekend of the playoffs, when the Broncos outlasted the Steelers 29-23 in OT. Denver built a 20-6 halftime lead, only to have Pittsburgh rally to tie the game with a score with four minutes to go. But on the first play of overtime Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard pass-catch-run score for the shocking victory.
The following weekend the Broncos got bombed in New England, setting the stage for an off-season in which Denver signed Manning and traded Tebow.
So the Broncos go forward without a guy who, while he struggled mightily to throw the ball, seemed to will the team to victory at times, and with a guy who might rank among the great passers of all-time, but who’s also had multiple surgeries on his neck.
During the pre-season Manning went 30-for-42 passing for 343 yards, with two touchdown passes and three interceptions. And most notably he was only hit a couple of times.
Pittsburgh is coming off a 12-4 season and that gut-wrenching playoff defeat. The Steelers led the league in defense last year, and ranked 12th in offense. But something was missing; Pittsburgh lost twice to smash-mouth Baltimore, which resulted in the Steelers having to start the playoffs on the road on Wild-Card weekend.
This year Pittsburgh starts the season without leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall, who’s still rehabbing his injured knee. So as much as they’ve relied on Big Ben in recent seasons, that reliance might actually increase this year.
Pittsburgh did get some good news recently, though, when WR Mike Wallace reported to camp. And it looks like he’ll jump right back into the starting lineup.
Getting Down on Sunday Night
Last week most Week 1 NFL odds boards were chalking Denver at -3 for Sunday’s game, with a total of 45. As of Tuesday most outlets had dropped the Broncos to -2, and the total to 44.5.
Finally, Denver went 9-7 on the ‘over/unders’ last year, as Broncos games averaged 44 points. Might that average increase with Manning behind center?
Pittsburgh went 6-10 on the totals last year, as Steelers games averaged just 34.5 points, third-fewest in the league.