As far as the playoffs go, no two other AFC teams have met as much as the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The teams are dead even in playoff victories 3-3. In fact the last two times that these teams met in the post season, the winner of the battle went on to win the Super Bowl (’97, ’05). The Broncos finished the regular season with an 8-8 record while the Steelers ended with a 12-4 record. The Steelers took second place in their division which is why the Broncos are hosting. Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. MST on CBS.
Broncos: The Broncos know the mountain ahead of them is of Everest proportions, and it all starts with facing the top-ranked defense in the league. The Broncos clearly need to change some things up in regards in their passing game. Perhaps opening up the game with some short pass plays on first and second down will help. That will also allow Willis McGahee to get going early. Receivers have got to be at the top of their game, running correct and good routes, and catching balls. This has been a problem for them of late. Having Tim Tebow throw some screen passes and slants at the start will get him into a nice rhythm and keep an aggressive defense somewhat at bay. It’s all about putting points up on the board and controlling the clock so the Broncos defense gets a break.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger has been hobbling around practice this week on a sprained ankle, but that certainly won’t keep him from scrambling, extending plays, and finding his tremendous receivers down field. The Steelers are 22nd in points, just three spots better than the Broncos, and they won’t have Rashard Mendenall (torn ACL). Issac Redman is his replacement and he’s a better pass blocker and receiver than Mendenhall so expect the Steelers to favor the pass heavily. They have a deadly combination of receivers with Hines Ward being a great blocker and running tremendous underneath routes. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, however, are their go-to receivers with each having over 1,000 yards on the season. The Steelers have the 10th best passing offense in the league. The Steelers have had trouble pulling away from mediocre teams on the road this season.
Broncos: In order for the Broncos to win the game, they need to score on defense or special teams. The defense hasn’t created a turnover in three weeks. This defense is going up a very big and physical offensive line, but Roethlisberger was the 4th most sacked quarterback this year (40). Because he does keep plays alive, he is prone to fumble the ball. After a quiet few weeks, Von Miller has got to step up his game. The Broncos need the pass rush of Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The Steelers rank in the top five in time of possession. However, without Mendenhall, the Broncos can cut the time that their offense is on the field.
Steelers: Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is arguably one of the greatest coordinators of all time. He has such a versatile defensive scheme that the Steelers have ranked first on defense for the past two seasons. They are a veteran bunch that disguise a lot of different looks. It seems that all 11 starters have a blitz on at least one play. It looks like chaos to other teams, but to the Steelers, it works like a gem. They will also stack the box and bump the outside, which could be a problem especially for Tebow. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley lead the team in sacks with 9.0 on the year. Troy Polamalu, William Gay, and Ike Taylor are big threats in the secondary.
Broncos: Just to remind you, overtime rules in the playoffs are different. If the Broncos win the coin toss and take the ball in for a score on their first possession, the Steelers will have one drive to try to tie or win the game afterwards. That means a Matt Prater walk-off field goal is less likely to happen.
Steelers: The Steelers can be a dangerous return team with Antonio Brown. The Steelers finished last in the league in field goal percentage going 23-of-31 (74.2%).
Broncos: John Fox has gone into this week telling the Broncos that all of the 12 NFL teams that still alive are now 0-0. The regular season record doesn’t mean a thing because the playoffs are a brand new ball game and everyone that’s in deserves to be there. It’s a good mentality to go in with.
Steelers: Mike Tomlin has run this gauntlet well many times before. He made the decision to not allow Ryan Clark to play. He’s a young, but experienced coach that can take this current team very far.
Prediction: Steelers – 23 Broncos – 20.