Heading into the 2015 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the most difficult schedule in the NFL, by way of opponent's strength of schedule the previous year. When the schedule was officially released, fans were treated to an extremely difficult stretch of games after their bye week with games against the Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
Those games would be a true test of the Steelers' mettle, but when those contests finally rolled around, they weren't as daunting for one main reason. All but one of those games mentioned above saw the Steelers' defense face the opposition's starting quarterback.
Week 12: at Seattle - Russell Wilson
Week 13: vs. Indianapolis - Matt Hasselbeck
Week 14: at Cincinnati - Andy Dalton leaves in the first quarter giving way to AJ McCarron
Week 15: vs. Denver - Brock Osweiler
Week 16: at Baltimore - Ryan Mallett
Week 17: at Cleveland - Austin Davis
AFC Wild Card: at Cincinnati - AJ McCarron
After Week 12, it has been an ongoing list of mediocre to below average quarterbacks the Steelers have faced. Now they have to prepare for their first genuine starter in Peyton Manning in the AFC Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs. No, Manning isn't what he used to be, in terms of his physical attributes, but he can still read a defense and help put his team in the best position to succeed with the best of them.
The Steelers defense looked sharp against the Bengals last Saturday night, but facing a Peyton Manning led team is far different than facing the young and inexperienced McCarron. In 2016, Manning's numbers have been mediocre at best. Manning is completing 59.8-percent of his passes for 2,249 yards, 9 touchdowns and a whopping 17 interceptions for an overall quarterback rating of 67.9.
However, anyone who has followed football long enough knows Manning is more than capable of putting together a solid game, especially after having plenty of rest to recover from a foot injury which hampered him midway through the season. Could the Steelers face 'Bad Peyton' on Sunday evening in Denver? Absolutely, especially if the team can get pressure on the aging quarterback against a very mediocre offensive line. However, could the Steelers also get a glimpse of the future Hall of Fame quarterback? No doubt about it. Either way, this will likely be the most difficult test for the Steelers defense in a long time.