Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) @ Denver Broncos (8-8)
(Sunday 4:30 pm ET, 1:30 pm PT)
It is remarkable that Denver loses their final 3 games and backs into the playoffs with a home game. It is also remarkable how a 12-win Steelers team is playing on the road! Pittsburgh doesn’t play to just make they playoffs, annually they have Superbowl expectations. They have won many times but came up short last season, and they are hungry looking for vengeance. With that said, they will be undermanned in Denver. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is out for the remainder of the playoffs, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is out, and safety Ryan Clark will miss this game, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is still hurt. The receivers (Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward) are very good, and tight end Heath Miller is a constant in this offense, but they have lacked a running game and defaulted to passing this season.
Denver is playing at home, the Steelers are not at full strength, and the offensive line is suspect at best right now. They biggest downfall for the Broncos, safety Brian Dawkins is still sidelined with a neck injury. He is a leader on and off the field and will be missed greatly. Denver is the underdog in this one and deservedly so. The Steel Curtain defense is 1st against the pass and 8th against the run. Willis McGahee will be leaned on as usual and Tebow will have to get rid of the ball when Pittsburgh blitzes. Their outside pass rush of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller should get to Big Ben early and often, and it helps to have Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman in the secondary.
The Broncos should open up with a few easy passes for Tebow and company, but the #1 rushing attack will play to its strength to close wildcard weekend. It’s obvious that Pittsburgh is the better team, but the game will be closer than expected because of injuries and a hobbled quarterback doesn’t work out too well. Big Ben may be a drama king but you can tell he’s really hurt, and their running game has to produce. If the Steelers offense can put up 14 points you have to like their chances. I say 14 because Denver’s special team is good and that is an aspect of the game that goes overlooked. I like Denver’s 3 defensive Pro Bowlers (Bailey, Dumervil, Miller), special teams winning the field-position battle, and the #1 run game. But you have to score touchdowns not just field goals. The Steel Curtain closes on Tebow and the Broncos season.
Steelers 16, Broncos 12