By Ian S. Palmer
The Pittsburgh Steelers 18-16 win against the Cincinnati Bengals last Saturday was all but gift wrapped and they’ll now continue on the road against the Denver Broncos in an AFC Divisional Round playoff clash at Sports Authority Field on Sunday, January 17. The Broncos have been resting for a week and they could be facing a Pittsburgh team that may be minus its top quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben left the game against the Bengals due to injured shoulder ligaments, but then returned. His status for Sunday’s game isn’t clear as of yet.
Steelers vs Broncos – Pinnacle NFL BETTING LINE:
- Pinnacle currently lists Denver at -6.5 at -110 with Pittsburgh +6.5 at +100
Pittsburgh made the playoffs as a wildcard team after finishing the campaign with a 10-6 record, which was good for second place in the AFC North Division. They caught a break in Cincinnati last weekend when the Bengals were nailed for a couple of stupid penalties late in the game and the Steelers capitalized in the extra yardage by booting the game-winning field goal with less than 30 seconds to play. The Bengals were charged with a pair of 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties and that was all Pittsburgh needed to punish them when Chris Boswell kicked the field goal.
Roethlisberger went 18 for 31 in passing for 229 yards with just one touchdown pass, but the Steelers’ running game was in fine form even without DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell in the lineup. Pittsburgh ran the ball 29 times for 167 yards with wideout Martavis Bryant chipping in with a 44-yard run and an amazing touchdown catch in the third quarter. The Steelers built up a 15-0 lead and nearly blew it though.
The Steelers were also nailed for 142 yards against the Bengals on 10 penalties and will need to be more disciplined in Denver. Pittsburgh finished the season with a fifth-ranked 26.4 points per game while they were third in total yards at 395.4, third in passing at 287.7, and 16th in rushing with 107.8 yards per outing. When Roethlisberger was sidelined for most of the fourth quarter last week Landry Jones took over at looked shaky at best. The fate of the Steelers playoff hopes could very well depend on the health of Roethlisberger.
The Broncos went 12-4 on the season to capture the AFC West and had a bye last weekend. However, their quarterback situation isn’t that rosy either. Peyton Manning is generally regarded as the top dog and it looks like he’ll start against Pittsburgh. Backup Brock Osweiler looked bad in the final game of the campaign, but played up until then when the 39-year-old Manning was out with an injury. Manning played in week 17 and went five for nine in passing for 69 yards after Osweiler struggled.
It’s unclear if Manning will be rusty or in top form this weekend and the Broncos may run the ball more than usual. The backfield pair of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman were hot in week 17 against San Diego in a 27-20 win as they teamed up for 212 yards on the ground and each of them scored a touchdown. The Denver defense was ranked the best in the league this year and also recorded the most sacks. They’ll try to limit the Steelers’ aerial attack no matter who’s at quarterback for Pittsburgh.
Denver has been beaten three times in their past four divisional round games and their confidence could be thin. Pittsburgh will be looking to reach the AFC Championship Game again for the first time since 2010. Denver finished the season with a 19th-ranked 22.2 points per game while they were 16th in total yards at 355.5, 14th in passing at 248.1, and 17th in rushing with 107.4 yards per outing.
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