Denver Broncos (10 – 3)
Pittsburgh Steelers (8 – 5)
It is almost impossible to look back and last Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the Oakland Raiders and figure out just how Denver actually lost that game.
Turnovers. Safety. Muffed punt. Missed field goal. Five sacks… to the same player.
Oh, maybe it’s not too hard to figure out why the lost a game that, if they had won it, would have put the Broncos in the driver’s seat for a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. No hard at all.
So, the issue is offense. Period. Denver has to find a way to score. On the road. Against a desperate team. Um, good luck, Broncos.
KEY MATCH UP
This one comes down to the Denver defense containing a pretty explosive Pittsburgh offense. It comes down to Chris Harris and Aqib Talib holding the Steelers’ receivers in check. All day. This is a very tall order. It’s not that Harris and Talib aren’t up to the challenge – they very, very much are. It’s simply that Pittsburgh has run up 30 or more points in five straight games. Does that streak end Sunday? If it doesn’t, Denver likely cannot win this game.
Does the defense have to pitch a shut out and score one on its own? I would argue that one of those scenarios or the other must happen for the Broncos to win.
Denver was without CJ Anderson last week and, though he’s had a mediocre season to this point overall, he’d been on a significant upswing in recent weeks, helping the Broncos to three straight wins before he sat out last weekend. Had he been in the game last week, I think Denver could have converted one of their four field goals into a touchdown and that would have been enough to win that game.
Anderson, and the Denver running game overall, must be very good Sunday for the Broncos to have any chance at a win.
This is a tough one for the Broncos.
Brock Osweiler on the road versus a team that needs to win is not a great recipe for success. Denver simply has looked bad on offense all year. I don’t know that this changes against a Pittsburgh team that is playing solid defense. The Steelers are among the league leaders in sacks. Osweiler has shown a tendency to hold the ball too long. Denver hasn’t scored a touchdown in 10 quarters. Pittsburgh is scoring over 30 in recent weeks.
Denver’s defense could steal (no pun intended) this one. If it does, it will mean Osweiler has managed the game perfectly, better than any of his previous four starts. It could happen.
I just don’t think it will.