AFC Divisional Round: Banged Up Steelers Visit Peyton’s Broncos

January 17, 2016 • Ben Heck • AFC, AFC North, AFC West, Denver Broncos, Front Page, Pittsburgh Steelers, Predictions, Preview

No DeAngelo Williams. No Antonio Brown. No problem?

An ailing Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) will need quite a bit of help from guys such as RBs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman, and WRs Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey in order to keep pace with the Denver Broncos at Mile High.

Peyton Manning will be back under center starting for the Broncos, and although he appeared to be his regular self in relief of Brock Osweiler in Week 17’s win over the Chargers, we don’t know which Peyton will show up: Week 17 Peyton, or Week 10 Peyton (5/20, 35 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT).

It was just about a month ago that these two teams last faced off, in what turned out to be an instant classic. Osweiler threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, but Roethlisberger stole the show with 380 yards and three touchdowns while leading Pittsburgh to a comeback victory. Pittsburgh was down 27-10 in the second quarter, only to score 24 unanswered points and win the game 34-27.

It was that game that gave Pittsburgh confidence in a late-season playoff push.

But this one will be different despite it being just four weeks ago. For this week, Peyton will be under center and there will be no Williams or Brown, as stated above. But also, Roethlisberger’s shoulder is shredded after Vontaze Burfict stepped on it in last week’s Wild Card game. How far and accurate will he be able to throw the ball? And will Peyton’s in-practice success translate to game-day success?

Plenty of questions on the offensive side of the ball for both teams, but on defense it could be a different story. Denver is still one of the best defenses in the league, ranking top five in scoring and yardage (1st), and top 10 in passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, sacks (1st), turnovers.

As for Pittsburgh’s defense, Mike Tomlin and DC Keith Butler’s unit has struggled mightily against the pass, ranking in the bottom five in attempts and yards, and allowing 29 touchdowns through the air. They’ve managed to get after the passer (47.0 sacks and force turnovers, which is what they’ll need to do this afternoon against Manning in order to keep pace.

Either way, this could easily turn in to another one of those instant classics, especially considering these two quarterbacks combine for a whole lot of playoff experience:

Roethlisberger (17th career postseason start): 11-5 record, 3 Super Bowl appearances (2 wins), 3,713 yards, 22 TD, 19 INT, 83.8 QB rating.

Manning (25th career postseason start): 11-13 record, 3 Super Bowl appearances (1 win), 63.4%, 6,800 yards, 38 TD, 24 INT, 88.5 QB rating.

Prediction: Although it’d be great to see Big Ben pull off the improbable upset without two of his biggest offensive weapons, I just think it’ll be too much to overcome against this defense. Especially given his injured shoulder. Peyton’s numbers won’t be legendary, or anything, but a couple of touchdowns through the air should be enough to put the Steelers away and set-up another Brady/Manning Conference Championship. But this game will be much closer than people seem to think. Broncos win, 31-21.

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

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