NFL Playoff Previews: Steelers at Broncos
2012 AFC Wildcard Round
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Ford: Demaryius Thomas
Denver needs Demaryius Thomas to come up with some big plays.
In order to pull off the big upset against the Steelers, Denver will need some big plays. And no Bronco is a better big play threat than Demaryius Thomas. Thomas didn’t become a factor until the several weeks into the season, but over the last month of the season, he established himself as a dynamic threat. Over the Broncos’ final 5 games, Thomas had 7 catches of at least 20 yards, including 3 that went for 40 or more yards and one more that went for 39.
Mitchell: Isaac Redman
With Rashard Mendenhall blowing out his knee in the season finale against the Browns, Isaac Redman will be called upon to carry the majority of the workload. Redman carried the ball for 92 yards on 19 carries against Cleveland last week, and he could see even more carries this week. With Big Ben on a gimpy ankle, they may lean on Redman that much more. Denver ranks 22nd in the NFL in run defense, so you can bet Pittsburgh tries to take advantage of that. Pittsburgh needs Redman to play well to take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE: Tim Tebow vs. Pittsburgh’s Defense
Mitchell: If the Broncos want any chance to upset the Steelers in Denver, they are going to need a strong performance out of Tim Tebow. In Denver’s three straight losses, Tebow has just one touchdown pass to four interceptions, and has completed under 40% of his passes. As much as some want to dispute it, Tebow’s performance has affected Denver’s performance. In his wins as a starter, Tebow completed 50% of his passes for 1,039 yards and 9 touchdowns to 1 interceptions. In losses, Tebow is completing just 43% of his passes for 690 yards and 3 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. Pittsburgh brings the league’s #1 total defense to Denver, and the sledding will be tough for Tim Tebow. If he plays well, Denver has a chance to keep thins close. Iff he plays poorly, this game will get ugly very quick.
X-FACTOR: Ben Roethlisberger’s left ankle
Ford: If Big Ben is fully healthy, this is a cake walk for the Steelers. However, Roethlisberger is not 100% and if he re-aggravates the injury, the Broncos have a chance. Although Denver’s pass defense is not great, they do get pressure on the quarterback with their talented pass-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. If they get to Big Ben early, we could, for the second year in a row, have a massive home underdog pull of an upset.
Even a hobbled Big Ben should be enough to take down Denver.
Ford: Despite Roethlisberger’s injury and the absence of Ryan Clark and Rashard Mendenhall, I’d be shocked if Denver won. Tim Tebow is one of the worst starters in the NFL and the Steeler’s defense is one of the best in the NFL and clearly superior to Denver’s. Denver has an advantage in running the ball, but in recent years, the playoffs have been all about the pass. Tim Tebow against this pass defense? I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some Brady Quinn. PICK: Steelers 24, Broncos 6
Mitchell: The Broncos scored 17 points the last two weeks against the 30th ranked and 12th ranked scoring defenses in the NFL. The Steelers are first in the NFL in scoring defense, pass defense, and total defense. It’s going to be a long day for Tim Tebow in his first playoff start. I don’t see the Pittsburgh offense putting up a lot of points either with Roethlisberger a little nicked up and Mendenhall being out. But, I don’t see the Denver offense producing much of anything against this defense. PICK: Steelers 24, Broncos 7