In my Week 1 picks column, I decided that the Denver Broncos were a bad bet against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Well, suffice it to say I was wrong. I won't make that mistake again. Denver's Week 1 showing against the elite Steelers proves that they are legitimate contenders.
On paper, the roster is excellent, but naturally I had my fair share of questions coming into the season. Denver managed to answer all of them against Pittsburgh.
Can they run the ball without Tim Tebow?
Well, admittedly this one is a work in progress, but Willis McGahee didn't regress into his 2010 fossil form as I expected.
He was solid, rushing for 64 yards on 16 carries and hitting the all-important four-yards-per-carry number. Lance Ball, Knowshon Moreno and even Peyton Manning joined in the fun, contributing to a 98-yard effort for the night.
Is the defense good?
If you still have questions about this, we weren't watching the same unit. Outside of Pittsburgh's incredible string of third down conversions (they were 11-for-19 overall), the Broncos stuffed their opponents all night.
The third-down issue is going to be problematic going forward, but remember, Denver doesn't play Pittsburgh every week. Most quarterbacks can't avoid sacks as easily as Ben Roethlisberger.
Is Peyton Manning healthy?
Healthy seems like an understatement after what we just saw. Rejuvenated seems like the right word. He didn't just seem like the 2010 Manning, he seemed like the 2005 version.
Manning was incredible. Other than a few wobblers (particularly one third-down out-route to Jacob Tamme), Manning's throws were crisp and accurate. He didn't throw many fly-routes or bombs, but he wasn't afraid of throwing downfield when he had to.
What was more impressive was not only his mastery of Denver's new no-huddle offense, but the mastery displayed by the entire team.
Everyone was in the right place at the right time, and by the second half Manning was picking Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense of 2011 apart and making it look easy. In fact, I would rank this question as the second-most important relating to Manning behind...
Can Peyton Manning maintain his rigorous TV schedule while playing for a new team?
The early answer here is yes. I swear, between Papa Johns and DirecTV, I saw him in roughly 1700 ads today.
Denver came into the season as a team with the potential to either win the Super Bowl or go 3-13. The Broncos will be tested early and often, but they passed their first big one against the Steelers.
The defense was flying around the field, the offense was moving the ball with ease on one of the league's best offenses, and John Elway's joy over not having to root for Tim Tebow was evident.
I wouldn't call Denver the favorite yet (right now, I would bestow that honor on San Francisco), but the Broncos are in the small group of teams that can call themselves true contenders.
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