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Week 1: Steelers-Broncos matchup

The SportsXchange

Pittsburgh at Denver

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver - TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: QB Peyton Manning proved he is healthy during the preseason, but it was also clear he needs more time to get in sync with his receivers - his 71.4 completion percentage notwithstanding. His rapport with WRs Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas will be the difference between the Broncos stringing together drives or struggling to move the ball. Pittsburgh might not have OLB James Harrison (knee), and with seven regular starters on the back side of 30 years old the Steelers are out to prove they still have an elite defense. Pittsburgh's offensive line is improved on paper. But without RB Rashard Mendenhall there is no proven pop in the running game. What new offensive coordinator Todd Haley doesn't want to see is QB Ben Roethlisberger being chased all day by Von Miller on long passing downs.

*Matchup to watch - Steelers LCB Keenan Lewis/Cortez Allen vs. Decker: Manning has lauded Decker for his work ethic and the third-year wide receiver appears poised for a breakout season. Lewis won the job, but Allen will also see significant playing time in nickel packages, and both are considered an upgrade over Bryant McFadden.

*Player spotlight - Steelers DT Steve McLendon: Likely to start with Casey Hampton recovering from knee surgery, McLendon has been very impressive when in the lineup and is likely to share the job with Hampton through the season.

*Fast facts: The Steelers' 35 sacks in 2011 tied for their fewest in 21 seasons. ... The Broncos' single-season record for touchdown passes is 27 by John Elway in 1997. Manning averaged 32 from 2002-10.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Peyton Manning eased concerns about his ability to take hits and improved his accuracy throughout the preseason. With Pittsburgh's pass rush not as fearsome as in the past, Manning has enough command of his new offense to be highly productive.

*Our pick: Broncos 27-21
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