Which team's Monday night performance wasn't a mirage?
Both the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a short week to prepare as Week 2 in the NFL hits. Pittsburgh is 1-0 after a road win against the Giants while Denver is 0-1 after a tough home loss to Tennessee.
The Broncos have dominated this series, winning six of the last eight meetings including each of the last two. Back in 2018, Denver beat Pittsburgh 24-17 as a Phillip Lindsay rushing touchdown with just under six minutes left gave the home team the win. In that contest, Ben Roethlisberger threw it a whopping 56 times for 462 yards. Case Keenum started for the Broncos and was just another member of the QB carousel.
It's hard to figure out what to make of Denver's 16-14 loss to the Titans. On the one hand, Stephen Gostkowski's late field goal makes things tougher to swallow, but his three other misses (and a whiffed extra point) made the tight score even more improbable. Drew Lock went 22-for-33 for 216 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Jerry Jeudy had a mixed bag kind of day with four catches for 56 yards but also had two crucial drops including one in the fourth quarter that would have kept a late drive going. The defense also held up pretty well despite the loss of Von Miller.
On the other side, Pittsburgh stifled Saquon Barkley and the Giants 26-16 in New York. The Penn State running back had just six rushing yards on 15 carries — a shocking 0.4 yards per carry average. Big Ben threw three touchdowns and looked good for the most part after missing most of last season. The injury to James Conner led to Benny Snell Jr. putting up 113 yards on the ground in 19 carries. The Steelers looked like the playoff team we expected them to be before the season.
Denver at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -7.5
Three Things to Watch
Normally in this spot, I'd mention some advantages, but both of these teams played on Monday night and are dealing with a short week. There's a small edge to the Steelers, who will be at home although with a smaller home-field since there will be no fans in the stands. Focus shouldn't be an issue even though both teams have intriguing Week 3 opponents. The Broncos welcome Tom Brady and the Bucs to the Mile High City while the Steelers take on the Texans.
2. Un-Lock the offense
Besides the stats that the Missouri signal-caller put up, there were other encouraging things from the Denver offense. Lock was not sacked a single time, and he faced a very stout front seven that featured Jadeveon Clowney. The Broncos were able to gain 4.1 yards per carry, although Lindsay went down with a turf toe injury that could keep him out of the lineup. New acquisition Melvin Gordon III ran for over five yards per carry and was able to find the end zone as well. Monday's game was also played without Courtland Sutton, who is the team's No. 1 wide receiver. Noah Fant led the way, but fellow tight end Tim Patrick and the rookie out of Alabama chipped in with four catches. We'll see how this unit does against the Steelers, who lived in the New York backfield. This will represent a huge challenge with the Steelers blitzing so often.
3. More good times ahead for Big Ben?
For as good as the Broncos were against Derrick Henry and the Titans, the Steelers represent a different challenge. Pittsburgh presented a truly balanced offense in Week 1 with 30 rushes and 32 passes, and they were able to do whatever they wanted against the Giants. Going from Conner to Snell gave them more success and something to think about as Conner nurses an ankle injury. The happiest player on MNF was JuJu Smith-Schuster who had six receptions and two touchdowns. The chemistry he had with Big Ben was exactly like what they had in 2018. Smith-Schuster should find more success on Sunday with A.J. Bouye going down with an injury. He's Denver's No. 1 cornerback and had some success covering A.J. Brown. Bradley Chubb was on a snap count last week and figures to get more playing time on Sunday.
The Broncos flashed potential on both sides of the ball last Monday. Still, they came up short against a Titans team that could have put up at least 10 more points. The Steelers were really impressive themselves in New York. Their defense is a top-five unit, and we'll see it on display on Sunday as they consistently harass Lock and the Denver offense.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Broncos 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.