This is the last of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Thanks for reading:
The last Wild Card matchup is in the AFC when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Denver to face the Broncos at 4:30 ET on CBS. The Broncos snuck into the playoffs even though they lost their past three games while the Steelers have won six of their past seven games. Denver has the home-field advantage even though they lost twice as many games as the Steelers did because they won their division. As with the Falcons and Giants, the Steelers and Broncos never faced each other during the regular season.
Offense: For the Broncos, Tim Tebow mania continues. First, experts hated him. Then he shockingly led Denver on a series of fourth quarter comebacks to win seven of eight games. Finally, he lost the last three games with dismal numbers and barely made the playoffs. For the year, Tebow’s numbers are pretty mediocre – less than 2000 yards in 14 games played (11 started) with 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six running) while turning the ball over 13 times (six interceptions, seven fumbles). Tebow has been worse in the past few games and unless he turns it around drastically, it could be a long night for Denver fans.
For the Steelers, a lot hinges on the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When healthy and able to play from under center, Roethlisberger is a very good quarterback but his recent injury has forced him to work from the shotgun position more where he has struggled. If he isn’t at full strength come Sunday, the Broncos can take advantage. The Steelers running attack is now in rough shape with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall last week with a torn ACL. On paper, Pittsburgh is much better offensively than Denver but the rash of injuries has given the Broncos a chance.
Defensively: The Steelers boast the league’s best team defense, giving up just 271.8 yards per game while the Broncos were below-average as a team as they allowed their opponents 357.8 yards per game. Pittsburgh is better than Denver against the run and against the pass, though Denver forced three more turnovers than the Steelers did (18 to 15).
Special Teams: Pittsburgh’s kickoff return game is slightly better than Denver’s but the Broncos have a slight advantage in their punt return game. Denver’s kicking has been pretty dismal this season, having made just 19 of 25 fields goals, but Pittsburgh’s is actually the worse. The Steelers tied the Buffalo Bills for worst field goal unit in the league by making just 23 of 31 field goals.
Outcome: While the Broncos hold the slight advantage in the kicking game, I just don’t see how this game is close. An injured Big Ben is still much better than Tebow and the Steelers defense will be licking their lips at playing against the inexperienced, wild quarterback. Denver’s home field advantage isn’t going to be enough and Pittsburgh could put this game away by halftime:
Pittsburgh 42 Denver 10