AFC WILDCARD SUNDAY
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) @ Denver Broncos (8-8)
When: 4:30 p.m. | Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Odds: Pittsburgh -9
What’s On the Line: The winner advances to the divisional round for a showdown with the No. 1 seed New England Patriots next Saturday night in Foxboro.
Game Day Buzz:5 of the last 6 years, a wildcard team has made the Super Bowl…..Pittsburgh enters the playoffs with 33 playoff wins, tied for most in NFL history…..The Steelers are 5-1 in their last 6 playoff games…….The Steelers finished the regular season 6-1 in the last 7 games for the third time in four seasons…..Denver is appearing in their first playoff game since January 22, 2006……The Broncos dropped their final three regular season games, being outscored 88-40 during that span……Struggling to score points, Pittsburgh has scored 13 pts or less in 5 of 8 road games this season….Overall Pittsburgh ranked 21st in the NFL averaging 20.3 points per game. Denver wasn’t far behind ranking 25th, averaging 19.3 points per game…..QB Ben Roethlisberger is 10-3 all-time in the playoffs and has won seven consecutive games in Janaury. Roethlisberger in his career in Denver, a span of 3 games, has thrown 9 touchdowns and posted a 115.8 QB rating. The last road playoff game Roethlisberger and the Steelers have played in was on January 22, 2006 in the AFC Championship game in Denver ….Pittsburgh ranks first in total defense (271.8 yards per game), passing defense (171.9) and points allowed (14.2)…… The Steelers had the fewest amount of turnovers in the NFL with 15. Denver turned the ball over 9 times in their last 3 games….Denver set a franchise single season mark with 2,632 rushing yards. Willis McGahee led the team with 1,199 rushing yards and Tim Tebow added 660 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards per carry……LB LaMarr Woodley has 11 sacks in 7 career playoff games….
Game Preview: What to Watch For
TIM TEBOW VS STEELERS DEFENSE
Keeping Tebow in the pocket : Kansas City gave an excellent blueprint to defending Tebow in their week 17 matchup. The Chiefs played tight man-to-man press schemes and it limited the Broncos receivers ability to get open which rattled Tebow as he held onto the ball too long. The Steelers are crazy if they don’t play man-to-man.
This season, Tebow has completed just 46.5 percent of his passes for 1,729 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. His passer rating is 72.9.
Tebow has posted a quarterback rating under 40.0 in his last two games and finished 6 of 22 for 60 yards, averaging 2.73 yards per pass with 1 interception and a 20.6 QB rating in a 7-3 loss to Kansas City last Sunday. Tebow known for his 4th quarter comebacks, went 2 of 8 for 17 yards with 1 interception and a 0 passer rating in the 4th quarter against the Chiefs. His struggles has Brady Quinn a possibility to play today.
Tebow committed nine turnovers in the Broncosâ last four games â five interceptions and four fumbles. The Broncos were 1-3 during that span.
Maintaining sound gaps: Another key for the Steelers defensively is maintaining their gaps and not letting Tebow get big plays with his legs. If they keep him in the pocket, the coverage sacks and mistakes from Tebow will be there and it’s going to be a good day for the Steelers defensively.
“He can take it anywhere on the field,” Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said this week. “Everybody’s going to have to be ready. We need to stay in our gaps and be gap sound. It’s all about being disciplined. Everybody needs to be disciplined and not try to do too much. (But) he’s been a great player for them.
The Steelers will surely give Tebow several different looks at the line of scrimmage which should lead to a long-day from him. Troy Polamalu who enters the playoffs much healthier than last season, will be front and center in trying to confuse Tebow.
BRONCOS RUNNING GAME VS STEELERS RUN D
Denver is built offensively through their running game and for them to win they have to be dominant on the ground and play turnover free ball offensively.
Denver ranked No. 1 in the NFL averaging 164.5 yards per game and the Broncos will pound the ground with Willis McGahee who rushed for 1,199 yards on the season and gashed Kansas City last week for 145 yards. Pittsburgh is confident in containing McGahee today as they are very familiar with McGahee’s running style, tendencies, ect.
Everything though for Denver is most likely going to come back to the pass. Being a run oriented team, Denver is not productive on third down as they converted just 66 of 214 third down opportunities this season, ranking them with the bottom of the league. At some point in this game, big plays on third down will be a must for Denver.
Preparing for Brady Quinn: The Denver Broncos intend to do anything they can to win today and that includes using Brady Quinn. The Steelers have prepared for Quinn and they might see him. Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reports that the Broncos will use Quinn in possible 3rd down packages if Tebow struggles early on.
STEELERS OFFENSE VS BRONCOS DEFENSE
Big Ben’s effectiveness:Â The big concern for the Steelers is their inability to score points on the road. Pittsburgh has scored 10 pts or less in three road games this season and overall scored 13 pts or less in five of eight road games. They let inferior teams hang around and the struggles to score points though has been magnified since Ben Roethlisberger has been hobbled by a high ankle sprain.
In the last three games Roethlisberger has played in, a span of 12 quarters, Pittsburgh has produced just 3 touchdowns, (2 passing touchdowns). Roethlisberger in the win against Cleveland moved around much better than he did against San Francisco on Dec 19, but he continues to struggle with his accuracy as he still can’t get on his toes and plant. In practice this week he was not moving around as well he did last week in practice prior to the Cleveland game.Â
Roethlisberger in his last two starts, has 0 touchdowns, thrown three interceptions and posted a 62.2 quarterback rating.
Steelers offense vs Broncos dime and nickle packages:A major advantage evaluators see in this game is the Steelers spreading Denver out when the Broncos and are in their nickle and dime packages. In the passing game, the Steelers might be forced to run two tight end sets to protect Roethlisberger but spreading the Broncos out and pounding them with the run when they are in those packages is something for exampleÂ Buffalo did an excellent job at in week 16, averaging 5.7 yards per game against the Broncos.
Key Matchup:Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil vs Marcus Gilbert and Max Starks
Von Miller (11.5 sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) dictate everything on this defense. When they are not getting good pressure to the quarterback, the Broncos secondary gets exploited especially against receivers who can stretch the field like Pittsburgh has in Mike Wallace and team MVP Antonio Brown.
Those issues have been there of late for Denver as Miller hasn’t been the same player due to his thumb injury and teams have been able to attack him in the running game.
Despite having Champ Bailey in their secondary, the Broncos gave up 30 completions of 25 yards or longer this season.
Wallace and Brown combined for 18 receptions of 25+ yards. Bailey is expected to be matched up against Wallace, despite Antonio Brown emerging to many around the league as the Steelers true No. 1 receiver.
Special Teams: Advantage Broncos in kicking game
These are two low scoring teams and if it’s a close game, it could come down to the kicking game, something not in the Steelers favor. The Broncos have an excellent kicker in Matt Prater who is one of the best long-range kickers in the game.
In his career, Prater is 12 of 16 from 50-plus yards, including two 59 yard field goals. He’s 3 of 4 on field goals of 50+ yards this season. For Pittsburgh, Shaun Suisham comes into the playoffs ranked 34th in the NFL in accuracy. Suisham made 23 of 31 field goals this season and was 6 of 11 from 40-49 yard range and 1 of 2 from 50+ yards.
When needed though, Suisham usually finds a way to get it down. He is 13 of 15 on kicks in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career as a Steeler.
The Steelers though are clearly not confident with Suisham who is 6 of 11 in the playoff all-time.
RB Isaac Redmangets the start at running back and will be the Steelers every down back…..OL Doug Legursky returns to the lineup and will start at center….Chris Kemoeatu starts at left guard…..LB LaMarr Woodley returns to the starting lineup at LOLB. He has not played a full game since October 23rd…..S Ryan Mundy starts at safety…..Bryant McFaddenis the Steelers No. 4 cornerback….CB Anthony Madison is active and will be the Steelers primary gunner…..RB Chad Spann is active and will serve as the team’s No. 3 running back.
Notable Inactives: PIT Maurkice Pouncey, PIT Ryan Clark, PIT Cortez Allen, PIT Mewelde Moore, DEN Brian Dawkins, DEN Spencer Larsen
Prediction: Pittsburgh 20-9