The top-seeded Denver Broncos (12-4) will look to avenge a regular-season loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) when the teams meet at Mile High in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday. The Broncos lost 34-27 at Pittsburgh as seven-point road underdogs in Week 15 with quarterback Brock Osweiler playing but will have future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning back under center for his first start since Week 10.
Point spread: The Broncos opened as 2.5-point favorites; the total was 40.5 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (view line updates and matchup report).
NFL pick, via Odds Shark computer: 26.2-18.8 Broncos
Why the Steelers can cover the spread
So long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suits up, the Steelers will have a chance to cover the spread and win. Roethlisberger continued to show why he is one of the most valuable players in the NFL last Saturday in an 18-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals with the Steelers as two-point road favorites. Despite suffering a separated shoulder, he came off the bench after leaving and led Pittsburgh on a drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal.
In the first meeting a little less than a month ago, Roethlisberger completed 40 of 55 passes for 380 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Of the 40 completions, 26 of them went to wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, who also totaled 276 yards and two touchdowns between them. Brown is dealing with a concussion from a hard hit he took at Cincinnati, but he remains the best receiver in the NFL and will be difficult to cover so long as he is healthy enough to take the field.
Why the Broncos can cover the spread
Even including the loss at Pittsburgh, Denver has gone 10-3 straight up in its last 13 games against AFC North foes. The Broncos are also 6-2 straight up in the past eight home meetings with the Steelers and should consider themselves fortunate to have backed into the AFC’s No. 1 seed thanks to wins over both the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals. Playing at home has not been kind to them in some recent playoff appearances, but Manning will give the offense a much-needed boost.
While Osweiler was not playing poorly down the stretch, Manning’s postseason experience is invaluable and gives the Broncos their best shot to advance. Defensively, they led the NFL in sacks during the regular season and will see how well a less-than-100-percent Roethlisberger can throw the ball early in the game by putting tremendous pressure on him. With running back DeAngelo Williams still dealing with a foot injury and remaining a long shot to play, Roethlisberger will have to carry the offense on his bum shoulder.
The Broncos are lucky they get to play a Steelers squad that is not even close to 100 percent healthy in this matchup. Roethlisberger will likely try to give it a go, but there is only so much punishment his body can take. He will be facing the top defense in the league, and getting knocked out again is a distinct possibility. Because of that, Denver is the pick to win and cover the spread despite going 1-7 against the spread in its last eight games as a favorite in January. Manning’s storybook return will add at least another chapter.
The Steelers are 2-6 straight up in their last eight games on the road against the Broncos.
The Broncos are 1-7 against the spread in their last eight games as favorites in January.
The Broncos are 10-3 straight up in their last 13 games against the AFC North division.
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