Football is the ultimate team sport, but on Sunday night in Denver it will be all about one man. Some guy named Peyton will be back on the field after a forced year off due to injury. Not only that, but the guy who was identified with one team more than anyone other than Tom Brady or Ray Lewis is now on a different team in a different time zone.
Every opponent in the AFC South is thrilled by the move, but for the rest of us it will take some getting used to. It’s rare that we see a star of this magnitude join a new team, and it is rare that a megastar returns from such a serious injury. Combine those two factors together and you have a game that just can’t be missed.
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Steelers at Broncos Betting Storylines
There is so much to watch when it comes to Peyton Manning in this game. Three things stand out above all else, though. First, what kind of chemistry will Manning have with his receivers? He was so dangerous in Indianapolis in part because he seemed to know what the receiver was doing before he did it. There are some familiar faces and some talent, but we won’t know for sure if they are on the same page until we see them play at full speed. Second, how does Manning respond to the first real hit he takes? Given the magnitude of the injuries he is dealing with and his age any hit could be the last he takes. That’s an unavoidable fact, but if Manning lets that weigh on his mind then he can’t be at his most effective. Finally, is the offensive line going to be able to offer Manning the protection he needs to survive? It’s a talented line, but not a deep one. Because of Manning’s fragility and lack of mobility the line is more important than ever here.
It’s not just Denver’s O-line that is an issue here. Last year the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger was running for his life far too often because his line couldn’t protect him. He’s not exact nimble, so he took a lot of abuse, and it clearly impacted his effectiveness. The team didn’t do enough to address the issue in the offseason, and the biggest move they did make — drafting guard David DeCastro from Stanford — has been derailed by a knee injury. As a result protection is a bigger issue than ever, and it’s a particular concern given Big Ben’s ongoing injury woes. We should know early in the game whether the line is adequate. Nothing will have a bigger impact on this game. You also can’t understate the significance of the coaching change Pittsburgh has made. Bruce Arians is out at offensive coordinator after his contract expired and wasn’t renewed, and Todd Haley is now in his place. He favors a more aggressive approach than Arians, and that will be an adjustment that could take time to really come together because the same core of talent will have to learn to work together differently.
The last time these teams met was when the Broncos beat the Steelers in overtime to win their wild card playoff duel last year — the last time Pittsburgh played a game that mattered. I’m not a big fan of looking back at what happened the previous season to handicap a game this season at the best of times, but here the past is all but irrelevant. Tim Tebow started for Denver, so pretty much nothing that happened offensively for the Broncos matters now. Most significantly, Tebow connected on just nine of 21 passes in regulation time. I promise I will eat the shirt I am wearing right now if Manning completes only 43 percent of his passes. Pittsburgh’s offensive hero was running back Isaac Redman, who was a workhorse who amassed 121 yards on just 17 carries. Redman is nursing an ankle injury right now, and he is questionable for this game. From a handicapping perspective you can just forget that the game ever happened.
Steelers at Broncos NFL Odds and Betting Trends
The Broncos are favored by 1.5 points, with 1.0 available in several spots that offer NFL odds. The game opened at 3.5 but dropped very quickly to the current level, which suggests that early smart opinions were strongly against the Broncos at their opening price. At this price action is essentially even, with slightly more bets on the Broncos. The total opened at 44.5 and has remained consistent at that level up to this point.
Denver has won and covered three of the last four meetings between these squads, but since that dates back to 2006 it means little. Pittsburgh is 0-4 ATS in their last four road contests.
Steelers at Broncos Predictions and NFL Picks
I have a hard time with this game because both of these teams fit into the same category in my mind — squads I don’t feel like I can judge until I see them play a game or two because of the questions surrounding them. Depending on how things turn out I can see this game going either way, but I have slightly more faith in the Broncos. Manning will be ready, and the atmosphere will be very intense. That will give Denver a boost. So will the ferocious presence of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller feasting on the weak Pittsburgh offensive line. This game doesn’t offer the most value I have ever seen, but Denver is the right choice.
The total is tight, and not that attractive in my eyes. I would lean slightly to the “under,” but with no enthusiasm.
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