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NFL Playoff Preview: Can the beaten-up Steelers handle Peyton and the Broncos?

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos  It’s the divisional rounds! Here we get to see the teams


Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos   It’s the divisional rounds! Here we get to see the teams who earned themselves a bye-week get a chance to spread their playoff legs against a team that’s already battled it’s way through the wildcard round, and boy did they battle. The Broncos will be hosting the Steelers are Mile High Stadium this time, and it’s going to be a must-watch in my opinion. Last week the Steelers took on the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, playing a game that had an awesome Touchdown catch by Martavis Bryant, a bunch of scrapping after the whistle, and injuries suffered by key players. The game itself had its own twists and turns, with the Steelers starting out setting up drives but only coming away with field goals on 3 of their 13 drives, and only one Touchdown. The Bengals on the other hand had the ball 15 times; scoring twice and coming away with one Mike Nugent field goal. The reason that the game will always have an element of controversy though has to be when Ben Roethlisberger ‘pulled a Willis Reed’; leaving the stadium to get checked by doctors, but when Landry Jones was underperforming he came back and set up the game winning drive following a Jeremy Hill fumble. It wasn’t his performance however that caused the controversy, it was the unsportsmanlike conduct and illegal hits to the head penalties on the drive by the Bengals. Antonio Brown was knocked out of the game by an illegal hit by Vontaze Burfict, and is now undergoing concussion protocol, and then during the ensuing scrum, Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct whilst arguing with a member of the Steelers’ coaching staff. This added up to 30 yards of penalties; putting the Steelers into field goal range to seal the game off of a Chris Boswell kick. Boasting the league’s best defense, and arguably one of the greatest of all time quarterbacks vaulted the Broncos into the 1st seed in the AFC. Their defense has an impressive resume this season; with a league-leading 52 sacks, only allowing an average of 283 yards on offense per game this season, with 14 interceptions; 4 returned for TD’s and 13 fumble recoveries. They’ve been incredible. Their offense, on the other hand has been struggling, Peyton Manning has seemed to have lost even more zip on the ball this season; throwing for only 2249 yards, with 17 interceptions and only 9 touchdowns. His backup; Brock Osweiler has played admirably in his place however, throwing for  1967 yards, 10 TDs and 6 interceptions. This decline of Manning has lead to a controversy brewing in Denver; Brock Osweiler is largely seen as the future of the franchise, but Peyton Manning was great, and lead the Broncos to a win in their final game of the season when Osweiler struggled against the Chargers, so coach Gary Kubiak will have a decision to make as to who’s under center this Sunday at Mile High Stadium. The good thing is that the running game is coming together later in the season; I largely attribute this to Brock Osweiler’s fit within a Kubiak offense that is known for utilising zone blocking, bootleg passes and keeping the QB as a threat to run. Fun fact: The Bronco’s receivers often say that Peyton Manning has ‘easier passes to catch’ compared to Osweiler. I’m willing to bet that’s because Osweiler has an absolute cannon of an arm and Peyton throws the floaters that have been intercepted so much this season.  

Keys to the game

 

Will the Steelers continue their red-zone inefficiency?

The last time the Broncos played the Steelers, it was an all-Broncos first half; scoring 27 points on 5 drives, whereas Pittsburgh only mustered a single touchdown on 6 drives with two field goals. So we’ve got to watch the offenses in this game. The Steelers need to come up with touchdowns to beat the Broncos, and avoid costly mistakes.    

Will Big Ben and DeAngelo Williams be back? will Antonio Brown be cleared to play?

  Last time these two teams met, Antonio Brown had 16 receptions for 189 yards and 2 Touchdowns; Ben Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards. Williams wasn’t incredibly effective in the game, however we have seen that whenever Ben’s not in, the Steelers will go to their rushing attack; they need #34 for this to be as effective as can be.

Who will be the #1 receiver for the Steelers?

With Antonio Brown not participating in training over the past week, will Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton start in his place? and if so, will they get smothered by Chris Harris, or be able to replicate #84’s production in the Steelers’ High-Octane attack

 

Matchup to watch 

Broncos DL vs Steelers OL

  The Broncos defensive linemen have been dominant to say the least in 2015, which has allowed the rest of the defense to turn the ball over through the air and mop up the dregs in the run game. I think it will be a great battle in the trenches for this divisional match-up, and interesting to see if they cause as much disruption as they have in previous games.  This leads me to ask: will Ben Roethlisberger/Landry Jones will be able to cope with the pressure as the pocket starts to collapse around them?  

My prediction

 With the Steelers having one of the best rushing defenses in the league; holding opponents to 3.8 yards per carry at 91.2 Yards Per Game, and the Broncos starting to lean on their run game more and more each week, there will be a stalemate in the rushing attacks of both teams. This will force both teams to go to the air, and I think that if Big Ben plays hurt, they will be limited with the deep ball, but not as much as the Broncos are with Manning at the helm throwing lame ducks to be picked off. If both teams start their back-ups; it’ll be a defensive battle, with Landry Jones just squeezing out a win because of better chemistry with his receivers, although both QB’s will throw a couple of picks along the way. I picked the Steelers to win this game, so I’m gonna go bold with it and predict:

Broncos 24-28 Steelers

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NFL Playoff Preview: Can the beaten-up Steelers handle Peyton and the Broncos?

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