Despite losing their last three games, Denver won the AFC West and sneaked in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. After falling 7-3 to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos needed a Raiders’ loss and the San Diego Chargers delivered.
This will bring them face to face with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High. The Steelers are the team that knocked the Broncos out in the 2005 AFC Championship game—their most recent playoff appearance. Six years later, the rematch has been set.
I do not intend to reinvent the wheel by saying that the NFL playoffs are not easy. It's widely known that you either win or you go home. There are no second chances; these games are for the strong at heart. The Steelers have repeatedly proved their mettle and the time has come for Denver to do the same.
The Broncos rely upon two factors to win a game: Tim Tebow and their ferocious pass rush.
Tim Tebow has been the center of the NFL world for the last couple of months. He led his teammates to comeback wins against the Raiders, the Jets and the Vikings and two wins in overtime against the Bears and the Chargers. His raw (but passionate) play, his will to win and his sideline praying made him a polarizing figure. The “Tebow Time” hype had begun.
Some wrote his name on their skin; some others are joking with his playing style. No matter which side you're on, you can’t deny that Tebow has been a driving force for the Broncos.
Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have sacked the opponent quarterback 21 times. When the secondary can make plays, the Broncos defense looks like a well-oiled machine, and when they keep the opposition under 24 points, they usually win (six wins in nine games).
But this is where the good things end.
The Pittsburgh Steelers possess the league’s statistically best defense. They concede less than 15 points per game and allow less than 272 yards. Denver’s offense has been unsatisfactory throughout the year and in the last three games has scored a combined 40 points—less than 14 per game. The Broncos offensive line is also pretty bad, having allowed the ninth-most sacks.
So, what actually tells me the Broncos stand a chance, having lost three straight matches? Honestly, this exact fact: Those bad results might prove to be valuable as gold for John Fox and his players.
It’s simple: They are the underdogs. “Tebow Time” appears to be over. The Steelers are the clear favorites here and if they lose, it will be a big surprise.
Every time a team plays with no pressure, its performance is on a higher level. Less stress and anxiety allow the athlete to focus and remain in that state—there’s no doubt about it. If you think the NFL is a different world, think again.
Tim Tebow brought Denver to life when its record was 1-4 and the season looked lost. They won seven out of the following eight games and that proved to be enough for a playoff spot.
Rashard Mendenhall is out of the game with a torn ACL. Isaac Redman has been effective the last two weeks, but he’s not a feared back. If the Broncos can limit his production, the Steelers will be forced to throw the ball more, which leads us to Ben Roethlisberger and his condition.
The 30-year-old quarterback hasn’t fully recovered from his high ankle sprain and if anyone from Denver’s front seven finds a way to sack him, he could force him out of the game.
For sure, the win is not a given for the Broncos. But I’m pretty confident that Tebow and Co. will give Pittsburgh a run for its money, and the odds are more even than you might think.