Romilly Evans expects Denver's running back to take some of the glory away from the elite QBs in Monday Night Football
"Rather than being resolved in the air, this game may instead be defined by the mistakes its quarter-backs don’t make."
A lot of people appear to have tonight's game billed as a battle between sorcerer and apprentice. But to me, that just smacks of lazy hype ahead of Monday Night Football.
True, Peyton Manning couldn't have been more impressive in his comeback game for the Denver Broncos. At least, once coach John Fox relaxed the reigns on his four-time MVP, allowing him to go no-huddle and harry his way to a comfortable victory (31-19) over Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, Manning spoke of "the limitations" he experienced on his return from career-threatening, even life-threatening, neck surgery. The master threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns. However, he is not yet back at the peak of his powers.
On the other hand, Manning's supposed apprentice, Matt Ryan, seemed closer to optimal form, leading the Atlanta Falcons to a big 40-24 away win against the perennially slow-starting Chiefs of Kansas. Ryan racked up two TDs and only fell a wafer shy of 300 yards. Yet for all his playbook computation, application and composure against the blitz, "Matty Ice" still looks a pale imitation of his forerunner Manning. The pair only converge in the regard that, for now, both remain some way short of the finished article.
So rather than this match-up being resolved in the air, it may instead be defined by the mistakes its quarter-backs don't make. And that's an assessment which should favour the Broncos and their potentially more balanced offense. Running back Willis McGahee could be the game-changer here, a dynamic crease-breaker with third-down dependability. Expect McGahee to warm up considerably from a tepid return of 64 yards from 16 carries in Week One, assisted on occasion by Lance Ball. This, of course, should in turn open up Manning's passing lanes.
The Falcons, however, appear to have departed from their trademark run-first-pass-later strategy. That puts a lot of pressure on Ryan's back and his receivers. So, even conceding a mere field-goal, I can't see Atlanta cutting free of the conventional handicap. Especially when you consider that their pivotal corner, Brent Grimes, is on the sick list this week.
The broader stats and trends also appear encouraging for Denver fans. The Broncos have prevailed in seven of last eight in this head-to-head - admittedly, a series which stretches back before 2000. But more crucially, they have also won the last four contests played in Atlanta. And then there's Manning who, true to reputation, invariably comes alive under the Monday lights - he sports an 11-3 record when the nation's cameras fix their gaze on his team.
It's Denver for me then, and another step along the rocky road to recovery for Peyton. That journey should be facilitated by a more productive running game, led by McGahee. And for that reason, I also like the unders on First Half Points, across two tight initial quarters where the clock should run freely.