Nine months ago the Denver Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in an exciting AFC Wild-Card playoff game with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Sunday night (8:20 pm Eastern, NBC) the Broncos go looking for a repeat performance vs. Pittsburgh, this time with some guy named Manning playing QB.
How did Denver beat Pittsburgh that day back in January? And can the Broncos do it again Sunday?
Denver led the league in rushing last year, averaging better than 164 YPG on the ground. RB Willis McGahee led the way with 1,200 yards, but Tebow played a big part with his scrambles and dashes, racking up 660 yards, averaging more than 50 YPG in the 12 games he played.
In that game vs. the Steelers, who’s defense only allowed 100 YPG last year on the ground, the Broncos ran for 131 yards, 50 by Tebow.
But those Tebow yards won’t be there Sunday night; Denver will have to move the ball through the air.
The real shocker of that game last January was Tebow’s ability to complete long passes downfield against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked pass defense. Tebow only completed 10 passes, but racked up 316 yards through the air. Yes, 80 of those yards came on the last play of the game, but even the other nine completions went for an average of 26 yards per.
One wonder what a healthy Manning might be able to do.
On the other side of the ball the Denver defense got some credit for keeping the Broncos in games last year, just close enough for Tebow and the offense to steal a few victories late in games. But Denver’s defense only ranked 20th overall last year, and 22nd vs. the run. One should also keep in mind that those comeback victories came vs. the Dolphins, Jets, Chargers, Vikings and Bears, none of whom are known for their prolific offenses and none of whom made the playoffs last year.
According to the Week 1 NFL odds boards, Denver was once a three-point favorite for Sunday night’s game; as of Thursday morning the line on the Broncos had been lowered to 1.5 points.