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Big Ben might be invading Tebow's turf, but he'll come out on top.
The final game of Wild Card Weekend will see the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the AFC West Division Champion Denver Broncos. Denver, like New York, will host this game by virtue of winning their division.
This will probably be the most watched game of the weekend, as you have a perennial powerhouse in the Steelers on one side, and either America’s favorite or least favorite quarterback (depending on your point of view) on the other side in Tim Tebow.
Tebow’s star has started to fall a bit as of late as teams have adjusted to Denver's zone-read offense. He has completed just 30 passes total over the last three games for 439 yards and 1 TD. For the sake of comparison, Green Bay’s backup quarterback Matt Flynn completed 31 passes for 480 yards and 6 TD last week alone.
Pittsburgh has evolved into more of a passing team this season than in years past, and that will likely be amplified by the loss of RB Rashard Mendenhall to a torn ACL. However, Isaac Redman should prove to be a more than serviceable replacement. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is currently struggling with an ankle injury, but he will suit up and should be able to pick Denver’s secondary apart.
Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown each had over 1,100 receiving yards this season while combining for nearly ten yards per target. Whichever one finds Denver CB Andre’ Goodman across from him (as opposed to shutdown corner Champ Bailey) should be able to make a big play when necessary.
Denver’s defense was the real reason for the team’s resurgence around mid-season. While most of the focus was shifted towards Tebow and his late game heroics, it was the defense that kept Denver in games throughout that stretch.
During their six game winning streak, Denver gave up just 17 points per game, including four games in which they allowed no more than one touchdown. LB Von Miller and DE Elvis Dumervil have combined for 21 sacks this year. But Miller has slowed down drastically as of late after surgery on his thumb and was even benched during Denver’s Week 17 loss.He hasn’t recorded a sack in his last three games and has only registered two tackles during that time. If they can’t put pressure on Big Ben, the Steelers’ QB should be able to find open receivers.
During Denver’s hot streak, Tim Tebow’s best asset was his decision making ability. Tebow went without a single turnover during the month of November, and it’s no coincidence that Denver went 4-0 during that month. However, Tebow has committed ten turnovers in the past five weeks, including losing a fumble in each contest.
The Broncos lead the NFL in rushing thanks in large part to Tebow and the resurgence of RB Willis McGehee, who recorded his first 1,000 yard season since 2007. The biggest receiving threat is Demaryius Thomas, but his route-running and hands leave quite a bit to be desired. The loss of Pro Bowl RG Chris Kuper will make it even more difficult for Denver to move the football.
Pittsburgh's defense is notorious for stopping the run and creating turnovers, making this an ideal matchup. They were eighth in rush defense and first in pass defense, allowing an amazing 5.6 yards per pass attempt. It's safe to say that Tebow will not do much through the air in this contest, so Denver's best chance to win this game will be to run the ball almost exclusively and hope to bust a big play here and there.
They will attempt to wear down the Steelers defense as the game wears on in the thin air and altitude of Denver. But Pittsburgh has been there before and will likely ensure that Denver cannot employ this strategy. If Pittsburgh jumps out to an early lead, the defense should be able to put an abrupt end to Tebow Time.
I honestly can't envision a scenario in which Denver can win this game. In the best case scenario, Denver would start with the ball and go on a ten minute drive which would culminate in a touchdown. But even then, the Steelers should be able to adjust and shut the Broncos' "attack" down the rest of the way.
Denver's defense will be able to keep the game mildly competitive, but they would have to force multiple turnovers in order to give Tebow a shot to win the game in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh's offense doesn't need to be a juggernaut in this game. They just need to methodically move the ball and pick and choose when to take their shots.
I have a feeling we'll be spending the majority of the fourth quarter of this game listening to Phil Simms and Jim Nantz opinion as to what John Elway should do regarding Denver's QB situation in 2012.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Denver 9