NFL Playoffs: Steelers vs Broncos by the Numbers
With the dust settling on the 2011 NFL season and the 2012 playoffs seeding set and ready to begin, it is time to look at one of the most interesting matchups of the Wild Card round of the playoffs: the Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Denver Broncos.
Just a few short weeks ago, Tim Tebow and the Broncos were the Cinderellas of the NFL. They were winning games like a lot of Pop Warner youth teams do: running the ball, play strong on defense and limit your mistakes.
This formula took the Broncos from the basement of the AFC West to the division championship.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have been dealing with injury concerns over the last few weeks with starters Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Troy Polamalu, all while fighting the Ravens for the AFC North Championship.
The Ravens won the North by virtue of the tiebreaker against the Steelers, so the Steelers will have to travel to Denver even though they won four games more than the Broncos this season.
Ben Roethlisberger is still obviously hobbled by his high ankle sprain, even though he has been playing through the pain. Ben is expected to play.
Rashard Mendenhall is not quite so lucky. As of the posting of this article, it is still unclear the extent of Mendenhall's injury, but it is believed to be a torn ACL that would not only end the season for Mendenhall, but put the 2012 season in jeopardy as well.
Ryan Clark is currently the leading tackler on the Steelers top-ranked defense, but is unlikely to play against the Broncos. Though not currently injured, the last game that Clark played in Denver resulted in him having a blood disease affect him because of the altitude in Denver. Odds are, Clark won't play.
Maurkice Pouncey appears to be recovered from his high ankle sprain and looks good to go against the Broncos, baring any setbacks.
LaMarr Woodley has missed all or part of seven games this season with a hamstring injury. Though the Steelers have kept him out the last two weeks, it is believed that Woodley will return to play against the Broncos.
Brian Dawkins missed Sunday's game against the Chiefs, and his status with a neck injury is still in question.
Chris Kuper has virtually no chance of playing against the Steelers Sunday after suffering a horrible ankle injury against the Chiefs. Here is a link to the video of the injury, but I suggest not watching if you have a weak stomach.
When the Steelers Have the Ball
With the injury to Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers running game has taken a hit. Even though Isaac Redman normally does a good job at filling in, his two fourth-quarter fumbles have the Steelers concerned.
Mike Tomlin is going to have his full compliment of receivers, with Emmanuel Sanders returning against the Browns from his foot injury, so look for the Steelers to open up the game with four and five wide sets and throw in some no-huddle offense as well.
Denver is going to have to find a way to limit the Steelers in the passing game and will probably do so by trying to put a lot of pressure on Big Ben. If they can be successful, it will go a long way towards the Broncos' chances at victory.
When Broncos Have the Ball
Though in years past, the Steelers rush defense has consistently been one of the best in the NFL. Though eighth isn't exactly bad (especially when you are first overall), the strength of the Broncos is their ability to run the ball.
Even though the Broncos are going to have to attempt some throws, they probably won't be very successful. Dick LeBeau is going to devise a game plan that will keep the Broncos from having any success in the air, and for them to win, they will have to have it on the ground.
The real key is going to be keeping Tim Tebow from getting comfortable. The Steelers are going to bring a lot of pressure from James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the outsides, and Lawrence Timmons is going to have to have a big game on the inside.
James Farrior is also probably going to have his best game of the season, as he excels in run support, but is weaker against the pass.
Troy Polamalu could be the game changer with his ability to read plays and make adjustments after the snap.
The God Factor
If you were to ask the question, "Who is the most religious person in the NFL?", the answer would be Tim Tebow.
Though some people cannot stand the way he praises Jesus Christ with every chance he gets, others of us (me included) respect Tebow for being true to his beliefs.
There is a player on the Steelers that is probably as true to his faith as Tebow, and his name is Troy Polamalu.
Anyone that watches the Steelers defense will see Polamalu and his post-play ritual after literally every play.
Polamalu praises God after every single play by giving the sign of the cross and thanking God for the ability to play.
Though he does not mention Jesus Christ in every interview, he still worships with the same faith.
If anyone was thinking that Tebow and his faith would allow the Broncos to simply overcome the Steelers, that probably isn't going to happen. Instead of God watching this game and giving the Broncos favors, he will probably just sit back and enjoy the game.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Steelers are favored by Las Vegas by +8.
Factoring how Vegas picks its line, the home team is given +3, meaning if this game was to be played in Pittsburgh, the Steelers would be favored by 14, or a neutral field, +11.
Since the turn of the century, the Broncos and Steelers have played five times.
Jason Elam kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Tommy Maddox led Steelers.
1/22/2006: AFC Championship
In a game that was not as close as the final score, the Steelers spanked Denver, forcing the Broncos into four turnovers, two interceptions and two fumbles. Pittsburgh scored 21 points in the second quarter to advance to the Super Bowl XL, where they would win their fifth Super Bowl.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 433 yards, but his three interceptions doomed the Steelers.
Denver led 21-7, but after a second-half rally, the Broncos kicked a field goal as time expired for the win.
The Broncos held a 10-7 lead in the second half, but three Ben Roethlisberger TD passes in the last 20 minutes of the game won it for the Steelers.
Denver leads the all-time series, 16-10-1.
Six times, these two teams met in the playoffs (four divisional/two AFC Championship).
The two teams have split the series, 3-3, with each team winning two divisional games and one AFC Championship.
The Broncos won in 1977, 1990 and 1998.
The Steelers won in 1978, 1984 and 2006.
These two teams have never met in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs.
Though every team has flaws, the Denver Broncos play into the strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Defensively, the Steelers are considerably better than the Broncos, and the same can be said for the other side of the ball as well.
Pittsburgh has no trouble scoring, and the Broncos do.
Pittsburgh Steelers 31
Denver Broncos 10