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Steelers Have One Big Advantage Against Broncos in Week 2

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Russell Wilson Steelers Quarterback

If Arthur Smith and Russell Wilson are ‘somewhat scalded’, as Mike Tomlin so eloquently put it, then they have some chances to make a dent in their previous ires early in the season. Opening up against Atlanta into Denver gives the Steelers a chance to get after the team Smith was fired by and the team that dumped Wilson to the side after the 2023 season.

Going into Denver in Week 2, a place that has become dangerous for the Steelers when they have traveled that far, could present a tougher matchup than most think. Even if the rookie, Bo Nix, should be a nice early-season matchup for the Steelers defense, the emotions in the building should be high both weeks and the Steelers can exorcise past demons for their offensive coordinator and quarterback.

In regards to Russell Wilson, he was benched by Broncos head coach Sean Payton for the final two games of the 2023 season. The two never saw eye to eye, which set up Wilson’s departure after a dreadful two years in Denver. The Broncos will take on an $85 million hit in dead money on its salary cap over the next two seasons because of Wilson’s release. The Broncos are also paying Wilson nearly $38 million this year to play for the Steelers, who will only pay him just over $1 million on a veteran minimum contract.

There’s a lot of bad blood between Wilson and Payton, for sure. One veteran AFC personnel executive even told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN that Payton never liked Wilson from Day 1.

Former NFL quarterback and current NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms believes Payton will do everything in his power to stick it to Wilson in Week 2.

“Never easy playing in Denver. You know, Sean Payton’s gonna want to make a point there and go, ‘Wait, I’m not gonna let the guy that I wasted all this salary cap on, and moved on from, and had to waste all this time talking about and blah, blah, blah. I don’t want him to come in here and win that game.’ I know Sean Payton. He’s chippy. He’s certainly not gonna want that. Definitely not,” Simms said during a Pro Football Talk live episode.

Pittsburgh Steelers Russell Wilson

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) before an NFL football game in Empower Field at Mile High Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

While Payton will have a strong desire to show up Wilson, former Broncos running back Philip Lindsay thinks he has to be careful to not out-coach himself.

“You’ve got Russell Wilson coming back here. Sean Payton may try to out out-coach himself. Bo Nix, his second game if he’s a starter. Our first home game. There’s lots of obstacles that Bo’s going to have to go through, that Sean’s going to have to go through,” Lindsay said during an appearance on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. “You’re playing against a coach that has been doing this for a long time, just like Sean, but he’s more established because he’s been with the same team forever. So I think that’s going to be the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Mike Tomlin is 24-6 in his career as Steelers head coach against rookie quarterbacks, so history is certainly on Pittsburgh’s side. However, when the Steelers head to Denver, it often does not end well for them. The last time Pittsburgh went there was 2018, when they lost 24-17. Before that, the last time the Steelers had gone to the Mile High City was when they lost in the 2015 playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl Champions.

But the Steelers’ trip to face the Broncos is difficult early in the season. Since 1990, the Broncos are 34-7 in the first two weeks at home. Part of that is due to the brutal elevation change, but Denver is only 1-4 in their last five home games in the first two weeks of the season since 2019, according to Warren Sharp.

For the Steelers, they have not won since 2009 in Denver. So, they must get those historical jitters out of the way. And the history is on Denver’s side since 1990. But this will be an emotional clash for the team’s quarterback in a revenge game early in the season. It should set the tone for what will come throughout the rest of the schedule.