Steelers at Broncos
It’s amazing how fortunes change quickly in the NFL as Denver was two weeks away from potentially missing the playoffs, but the Broncos ended up clinching the top seed in the AFC with a 27-20 home victory over the Chargers in Week 17. Peyton Manning rescued the Broncos by leading to 10 straight points in the fourth quarter in place of the ineffective Brock Osweiler. Manning and the Broncos face a Steelers’ squad that is missing their big play wide receiver and have a banged-up All-Pro quarterback.
Pittsburgh (11-6 SU, 9-6-2 ATS) squandered a 15-0 lead in last week’s AFC Wild Card matchup at Cincinnati, but the Steelers took advantage of two personal foul penalties on the Bengals to pull out an 18-16 victory. Antonio Brown was knocked out by Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict on the second-to-last play of regulation, as the Steelers’ standout wide receiver will not play on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger overcame a right shoulder injury to lead Pittsburgh on its game-winning drive, but the Pittsburgh quarterback suffered ligament damage on a hit in the second half and should start on Sunday.
The Broncos (12-4 SU, 8-8 ATS) overcame a mid-December two-game losing streak to beat the Bengals and Chargers at home to finish tied with the Patriots for the best record in the AFC. Denver owned the head-to-head tiebreaker after rallying past New England in overtime, 30-24 in Week 12 to hand the Patriots their first loss of the season. The Broncos didn’t perform well in the home favorite role this season, posting a 1-5 ATS record with that lone cover occurring in a Week 1 comeback victory over Baltimore.
The Steelers rallied past the Broncos in their most recent matchup in Week 15 at Heinz Field, 34-27. Denver jumped out to a 27-10 advantage, but the Broncos were held scoreless in the second half as they still managed the cover as 7 ½-point underdogs. The Steelers will definitely miss Brown, who hauled in 16 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns, while Roethlisberger threw all three of his touchdown passes in the second half. Pittsburgh rushed for just 23 yards on 17 carries, as running back DeAngelo Williams will miss his second straight game with ankle injury.
The last time the Steelers faced the Broncos in the playoffs came back in the 2011 Wild Card round. Tim Tebow led the Broncos to a thrilling 29-23 overtime victory as 7 ½-point home underdogs after hitting Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown strike on the first play in the extra session. Since that win, the Broncos own a 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS record at home with Manning under center, as Denver has failed to cover in the divisional round all three times.
Pittsburgh has covered in four of six opportunities as a road underdog this season, including outright victories at Cincinnati, San Diego, and St. Louis. The last time the Steelers were listed as an away ‘dog in the playoffs came back in the 2005 AFC Championship against who else, but the Broncos. Pittsburgh crushed Denver, 34-17 to cash as three-point underdogs, as the Steelers are listed as an underdog in the playoffs for the third time in Mike Tomlin’s tenure (0-2 SU, 1-1 ATS).
The Steelers are currently riding a three-game ‘under’ streak, while drilling the ‘under’ in seven of nine games away from Heinz Field. The ‘under’ has hit in five of eight home games for the Broncos, including a 3-0-1 mark to the ‘under’ when Manning started at Sports Authority Field. Temperatures shouldn’t be a factor on Sunday as highs are expected in the mid-40’s while there is no threat of snow or rain.