During the 2008 season, when the Pittsburgh Steelers held the NFLs toughest schedule, head coach Mike Tomlin coined the phrase, “It’s a five star match-up, because we’re in it.”
It was a phrase Tomlin would use before big games, and it helped carry the Steelers past every other team on their way to the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl title.
Fast forward to Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season, as the Steelers prepare to take on the Denver Broncos Sunday night in a five star match-up of epic proportions.
Much of the focus will be on Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning, who will be playing his first game with his new team after 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Steelers will be going into Sunday’s game with the taste of last season’s bitter 29-23 loss to the Broncos in the AFC Wild Card round still lingering.
While Manning understandably is getting all the attention in the build-up to the game, the outcome Sunday night will come down to which team's role players shine the brightest, along with who can win the turnover battle.
Ultimately, I believe defense and special teams will help Pittsburgh come away with a win in a tightly matched game by the score of 26-24.
Bold Prediction No. 1: Chris Rainey will be the difference-maker
Rainey was an electrifying player for the Steelers in the preseason, and is a legitimate threat to score any time he gets his hands on the ball.
With injuries to running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, there is a good chance Rainey will see some action at running back. However, it is in the return game where Rainey will shine.
I predict Rainey will return either a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown at some point in the game, giving the Steelers the extra dimension they need to help them get the win.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Eric Decker will have a huge game
While it was Demaryius Thomas who torched the Steelers in their playoff game in January, it will be Eric Decker who will have a big game on Sunday night.
Decker has emerged as Manning’s go-to guy throughout the preseason, and with the Steelers more than likely going to double team Thomas, it should open up space for receivers like Decker, Brandon Stokley and tight end Jacob Tamme.
With that open space, I believe Decker will have between 125-150 yards receiving along with a touchdown catch as he will be the biggest threat to the Steelers' defense throughout the night.
Bold Prediction No. 3: The Steelers will win the turnover battle
In this game, like most, the winner will be determined by the team who turns the ball over the least amount of times.
What is most important for Pittsburgh is getting pressure on Manning and not giving him time in the pocket.
If the Steelers can generate a strong pass rush, which I believe they will, it will disrupt the timing Manning has with his receivers, which could lead to turnovers.
I predict the Steelers will force three Denver turnovers, two of which will be interceptions of Manning, while the Steelers will only turn the ball over once. These turnovers will be the key component to why Pittsburgh will come out of Denver with the victory.