TALE OF THE TAPE

Divisional Round Tale: Pittsburgh Steelers At Denver Broncos

Pittsburgh Steelers
Denver Broncos
Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is tested for a concussion on the sideline during Pittsburgh\'s AFC wild-card game on Jan. 3, 2015. (Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning prepares to take the field against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Nov. 15, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Quarterback
Winner After getting a huge gift from the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 to make the playoffs, the Steelers got an even bigger one from the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild-Card round when they melted down and gave the Steelers the opportunity to win the game. They did that, but Ben Roethlisberger hurt his shoulder and his status may not be determined until just before game time.
The Broncos go into the divisional playoffs as the top AFC seed, but they are anything but a lock. Peyton Manning was named the starter by Gary Kubiak last week, and he looked proficient in the season finale against San Diego. However, Manning is limited by age and injuries at this point, and key turnovers and poor throws seem likely.
Offense
Winner The Steelers had to go with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman at running back against the Bengals because of DeAngelo Williams’ ankle injury, and they may be forced into action again here. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is a game-changing receiver who can dominate. Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller are outstanding supporting receivers.
The Broncos need to get productive performances from Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson in order to take pressure off of Manning. The Denver offensive line has to win the battle against a vulnerable Pittsburgh defensive front. Look for Demaryius Thomas to stretch the defense, and that should open things up for the underneath passing game.
Defense
The Steelers are vulnerable on defense and they have their biggest problems in the secondary. The Steelers ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, and that could be the decisive factor in this game. The Steelers are quite aggressive and much better against the run. Lawrence Timmons has the range to make tackles sideline-to-sideline, while Cameron Heyward is a pass-rushing force.
Winner The Broncos were the best defensive team in the league during the regular season from start to finish, and if they are going to survive the AFC playoffs, that defense must continue to dominate. The key to their all-around excellence is the speed and explosiveness of outside linebacker Von Miller, who had 11.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. Aqib Talib could have a problem matching up with the elusive Brown.
Special Teams
Winner The Steelers do a good job covering kickoffs and punts, and they have a chance to make big plays when Brown gets a chance to take an unencumbered first step when returning punts. PK Chris Boswell kicked the game-winning field goal against Cincinnati to help the Steelers advance.
The Broncos usually are quite competitive on special teams, but their ability to hold up on punt returns will get tested by the explosive Brown. Brandon McManus is a dependable kicker who made 30-of-35 FG attempts.

The Winner Is

Ben Roethlisberger
Winner Pittsburgh Steelers
3 out of 4

The Steelers have the kind of talent and confidence to find a way to go into Denver and beat the No. 1 seed on their homefield. However, they will have a huge problem if Roethlisberger can’t play effectively.
-Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports

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