SNF - Steelers at Broncos
September 9, 2012
By Micah Roberts
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The last time we saw the Steelers at Denver was in January for a Wild Card playoff game with the forever lasting image of Ike Taylor getting stiff armed by Demaryius Thomas as he raced 80 yards in overtime for the winning touchdown. Since then, a lot has changed, especially in Denver where it welcomes 36-year old Peyton Manning as the new quarterback.
There are all kinds of questions surrounding Manning and how effective he'll be in Denver. The only real glimpse of him in game action -- after missing an entire season -- was in the preseason and he looked good.
He took a couple shots from defenders showing that his neck wouldn't break on first contact. That was a big question since he did have four surgeries to repair the neck, but doctors gave him the okay to play. While he looked a little rusty getting minimal playing time in his first two preseason games, he looked like the Peyton Manning we all knew and respected from the past in his third and final game against a great 49ers defense.
He was changing plays on the line, moving players around, and best of all for Denver fans, executing with precision as he engineered three scores in the first quarter. It was that one quarter of play that really gave fans some optimism that Manning might still have something left in the tank.
However, here in Las Vegas, where we gauge teams by the amount of money wagered, especially cash from sharp money, the Broncos haven't caused a stir. Sure, they're getting plenty of $5 and $10 bets to win the Super Bowl (10/1) by fans visiting from out of town that think it would be a neat story, and wanting to be part of it if it does happen -- Denver has the most Super Bowl tickets written on them.
But if we're looking at the sharp money out there, the only thing they've touched is the Broncos to win less than the win total posted. They bet Denver to win less than 9 ½ games, less than 9 games, and slowed the pace once it reached 8 ½, which is where it sits now.
The LVH Super Book opened the first Week 1 spreads in the world with the Broncos being 2-point favorites for this game and here we are on the day it kicks off and it's Broncos -1 ½, one of the slowest moving games on the board.
That doesn't mean people aren't betting the game, because they are. It's been a great two-way handle and it will likely be the largest bet game of the week. Because of the publicity of Manning's return, being Week 1 with everyone all excited and it also being an isolated night game, it may even be the highest wagered upon game of the regular season.
But going back to Manning, and more specifically how effective he'll be; last year's Broncos led the league in rushing with a pretty impressive offensive line. Manning should be protected well. While they won't lead the league in rushing again with Manning at the controls, they should still be in good hands with Willis McGahee.
The real question is in regards to his receiving corps. Eric Decker is not the most sure handed receiver in the league and he's going to be playing the role of Manning's Reggie Wayne. Demaryius Thomas is another receiver with hands of stone that has to have the ball placed perfectly in his hands to be successful and he's also a poor route runner. Fortunately for Manning, he's got the sure handed Brandon Stokley and a couple of really good pass catching tight-ends to help his cause. But overall, his main receivers that are supposed to make him look good are better at blocking. Decker and Thomas both had the luxury of playing with Tim Tebow where defenses stacked the line with their safeties giving them one on one coverage and found themselves wide-open many times.
The Denver defense is also a major question mark. They've got two great pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller which helps mask their poor secondary, but they'll find themselves in plenty of trouble when the opposing quarterback gets time to pass.
We haven't said anything about the Steelers yet because they don't have a lot of question marks. Denver is the unknown, whereas Pittsburgh is the known. We know who they are and what they do, which is play hard on every down.
Despite not having Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Clark and James Harrison, you still know that they're going to play their brand of football and it all starts with QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is healthy without a limp or a special shoe. Even with a gassed Mike Wallace who missed training camp, Big Ben will make plays with whoever is out there -- that we know.
The one variable that may change things a bit is how new offensive coordinator Todd Haley calls the plays. Haley wanted to maximize Roethlisberger's effectiveness and noticed that in Big Ben's past while using the no huddle format, he was statistically better so they practiced it as part of their regular offense throughout training camp.
If the no huddle is to be implemented more, this could be a great opportunity to see a lot of points scored, making 'over' the total of 46 points attractive. Manning won't be harassed by Harrison and the Broncos defense is suspect which should help the total rise as well.
As for the winner of this game? Well, let's just say that the city of Denver hasn't been this excited for a game since John Elway was playing. The crowd will be intense and will play a role in the game. There also has to be a sense of urgency by Denver to get the win because it's the first of seven games against teams that made the playoffs last season. If they don't win Sunday, they might find themselves 0-3 by the time they face the Raiders in Week 4.
Kickoff is slated for 8:20 p.m. ET, with NBC providing national coverage.
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