Pittsburgh Steelers (1 – 0)
Denver Broncos (0 – 0)
Playoffs. This is it. This is where Denver Bronco fans are looking for a “kicking and screaming” Bronco team. Last year, Denver lost in ignominious fashion to the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round triggering a head coaching change and an organizational shift for the Broncos.
During the season, Peyton Manning struggled, was injured and spent some time on the bench resting up and watching Brock Osweiler win enough games to get Denver the Number 1 Seed in the AFC Playoffs. It was a odd season for Manning, but he’s back and Denver is as healthy as it has been in months.
Pittsburgh, however, is very injured. Ben Rothelisberger is hurting, but will play. Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams will not. This version of the Steelers is not the defensive juggernaut of previous iterations. They are an offensive team first. Can they finds ways to score without two key weapons and an injured Big Ben? We’ll see!
KEY MATCH UP
Though the defense will likely be able to handle a wounded Steelers offense, the Broncos must be able to run to get their offense going. Peyton Manning will need a strong running game to be as effective as he can be at QB. In recent weeks, the Broncos have looked like a Gary Kubiak coached team. Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson have run very well and they have tired defenses out in the Mile High City. They will need to do so again this week. The Steelers are excellent against the run. The Broncos have been good on the ground. This may well be the match up that determines the outcome of this game.
Peyton Manning will start for the Broncos Sunday. He looked good in short work against the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago and he looked more healthy than he’s been since early in the season. The difference between Manning and Osweiler was clear not in terms of quarterback play, but in terms of running the offense. Manning simply has better command that Osweiler and that is very important during the playoffs. Say what you will about Manning’s playoff record, I will take his mind and diminished skills this weekend over the less experienced Osweiler. Denver has a very good team. Manning doesn’t need to be a super hero for them to win this game.
This would be a very different game if Pittsburgh were entirely healthy and I don’t suggest for one second that they cannot win this game. But Denver has a significant advantage considering the beat up nature of the Steelers. HOWEVER, let’s remember that Denver was more than competitive – in Pittsburgh – against the Steelers last month. Denver was the wounded team in that game and the Steelers got hot in the second half following a first half during which Denver played so well it looked like it could beat any team in the league.
This is a playoff game. It will be low scoring and hard fought.
Will it be the first chapter in a POTENTIAL story book ending to Peyton Manning’s career? I think Denver will write that first chapter Sunday. Whether they can write another next week will remain to be seen.