What looked like another lost year in the Mile High City was quickly salvaged by the team’s heroics when polarizing quarterback Tim Tebow took over mid-season for Kyle Orton. While Tebow’s play has been erratic at best, he ultimately put his Broncos in a position to host a post-season contest while winning the AFC West division. As a result of their glory, they get to take on Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and the always tough Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos badly limped into this position, losing their final three contests of the regular season and looking pretty brutal in the process. It seems as if the lustre of Tebow has worn off in Denver, and against a vicious Steelers defensive unit, it’s only going to get harder for the former Florida Gator. And though it’s a miracle the Broncos are in this position as an 8-8 football team that was outscored by 58 points this season, it is still impossible to count them out as they host a playoff game against a badly banged-up Steelers squad.
While the Broncos struggled in the weeks leading up to this contest, the Steelers have struggled badly in their quest to get healthy. Already, key center Maurkice Pouncey, running back Rashard Mendenhall, and bruising safety Ryan Clark are all unavailable for this match-up. Those are three massive losses to Pittsburgh and all play hugely crucial roles to the success they’ve attained over the years. Not to mention the fact that star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be virtually playing on one leg after being badly hobbled by a high ankle sprain, and his effectiveness remains highly in doubt. Finally, key pass-rusher LaMarr Woodley has been hindered by a hamstring injury the past few games, and while he should suit up, he’ll likely be severely limited.
In comparison, Denver enters this game relatively healthy at most positions with the exception of fullback Spencer Larsen who remains questionable. If he can’t go, Austin Sylvester will fill in for the Broncos but this may limit the effectiveness of the Denver attack. It will be imperative for the Broncos’ defense and rabid home crowd, to do their best to give Tebow and the offense a shot at securing an unlikely victory.
Steelers at Broncos Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Pittsburgh Steelers -9 (-105)
@ Denver Broncos +9 (-115)
Over 33.5 (-110)
Under 33.5 (-110)
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Steelers at Broncos Pick:
While on paper this contest sure looks like a mismatch of epic proportions, in the NFL Playoffs there is just never a sure thing. Certainly we all remember last year’s miraculous home victory by the Seahawks against the Saints in Seattle, don’t we? That contest saw Seattle feed off an electric crowd en route to an impressive upset victory over New Orleans as a double-digit underdog. And while I don’t see Denver being able to win this game outright, I do give them a solid chance at keeping this contest very close until the final whistle.
The Steelers are badly depleted at a variety of key positions, and the Broncos will be able to exploit that with a persistent approach at adhering to their game-plan. While their strengths do play into the hands of Steelers excellent defensive unit, this game should unfold as a defensive struggle with limited offensive breakthroughs. While Tebow has struggled on throwing downs and moving the chains with his arm, the Pittsburgh rush defense isn’t as solid as it is in defending the pass. Denver’s option formations, led by Tebow and McGahee should be effective and wear down an ageing and banged up Steelers defensive front.
Look for both teams to get locked into a field-position battle early in this game and have it stay that way until the contest’s latter stages. Punts will be very common as I see both offenses struggling to move the football. Though Pittsburgh possesses the big, accurate arm of Big Ben, his mobility is severely limited and the Broncos defense is vastly underrated and will create havoc in the backfield for Roethlisberger using their great edge rushers.
The Steelers have hardly been impressive in the final weeks of the season, barely beating bottom-feeders such as Cleveland, and nearly losing to a pre-Romeo Crennel Kansas City squad. They struggled to put up points, and a similar style of game should be replicated in Denver. Expect the Broncos to utilize their defensive weapons to dictate a tone for this game. Denver boasts two elite pass-rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, and look for them to be in the Steelers’ backfield all evening, hoping to make life miserable for Roethlisberger. If they can make him even more ineffective or further aggravate his ankle, it could drastically alter the dynamics of this contest.
Though Denver likely doesn’t have the ammunition or experience to pull out a victory in a playoff contest against the battle-tested Steelers, they will keep this contest very close in what should be a low scoring affair. In the NFL’s history, playoff teams without a winning record, like Denver, are 5-0 against the spread, and 4-1 straight up. That trend should bode well for the Broncos in this contest.
The Steelers defense is solid, but has struggled at creating turnovers this season. Look for Tebow to be responsible and efficient with the football on offense, doing just enough to give his a team a shot at victory. The defense will be relentless against Big Ben, who should be nothing more than a sitting duck in an often collapsing pocket. Denver’s defense will give them a shot, but the Steelers will narrowly escape a close one in the fourth.