The final game of wild card weekend holds by far the most interest to fans of the New England Patriots, as the winner will playing the Pats in Foxboro on Saturday night. Some Pats fans are rooting for the Steelers for the chance to avenge the regular season loss at Pittsburgh, as well as being able to hang your hat on beating the best competition available (Steelers, Ravens, Packers/Saints/49ers); others are rooting for the Broncos as they are seen as a team the Pats would have a better chance of defeating.

 

# Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at #4 Denver Broncos (8-8)
4:30 ET on CBS
Television Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
Radio Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Dan Fouts and Steve Tasker

Opening Line: Pittsburgh favored by 9
Current Line: Pittsburgh favored by 7½ to 9, depending where you shop
Over/Under: 33½ to 35, depending on whose numbers you use.

 

By The Numbers:

Steelers Offense
20.3 points per game – 21st
372.3 yards per game – 12th
253.4 passing yards per game – 10th
118.9 rushing yards per game – 14th
28 turnovers – 20th

8.0 yards per pass attempt – 5th
63.3% pass completion – 6th
21 passing touchdowns – 13th
15 interceptions thrown – 17th
89.7 quarterback rating – 10th
42 sacks allowed – 9th
279 yards lost on sacks – 9th

4.4 rushing yards per carry – 11th
13 rushing touchdowns – 15th
4 fumbles lost – 19th

Broncos Defense
24.4 points per game – 24th
357.8 yards per game – 20th
231.5 passing yards per game – 18th
126.3 rushing yards per game – 22nd
18 turnovers – 28th

7.5 yards per pass attempt – 20th
62.4% pass completion – 24th
24 passing touchdowns – 16th
9 interceptions – 28th
93.1 quarterback rating – 28th
41 sacks – 10th
283 yards lost on sacks – 8th

4.1 rushing yards per carry – 13th
11 rushing touchdowns – 15th
1 fumble recovered – 26th

Broncos Offense
19.3 points per game – 25th
316.6 yards per game – 23rd
152.1 passing yards per game – 31st
164.5 rushing yards per game – 1st
30 turnovers – 24th

6.3 yards per pass attempt – 28th
50.6% pass completion – 32nd
20 passing touchdowns – 18th
13 interceptions thrown – 8th
73.5 quarterback rating – 26th
42 sacks allowed – 9th
274 yards lost on sacks – 10th

4.8 rushing yards per carry – 6th
11 rushing touchdowns – 19th
7 fumbles lost – 32nd

Steelers Defense
14.2 points per game – 1st
271.8 yards per game – 2nd
171.9 passing yards per game – 1st
99.8 rushing yards per game – 8th
15 turnovers – 32nd

5.6 yards per pass attempt – 1st
54.5% pass completion – 5th
15 passing touchdowns – 2nd
11 interceptions – 24th
71.7 quarterback rating – 4th
35 sacks – 17th
230 yards lost on sacks – 20th

4.0 rushing yards per carry – 9th
7 rushing touchdowns – 2nd
1 fumble recovered – 26th

 

Conventional wisdom says that the Broncos have no chance, but I completely disagree. For example some people point to Denver’s inability to score against the Chiefs last week, but keep in mind that same Kansas City defense was the only one in the league that was able to make Aaron Rodgers look subpar, just one week prior to that. You have to wonder what the Chiefs could have done with Romeo Crenel as their head coach from the start of training camp and without injuries to their three top players.

Despite their reputation I don’t consider the Steelers to be as good defensively as the late-season Chiefs were, and they will be without hard hitting safety Ryan Clark. Pittsburgh wasn’t able to get much of any pressure on Alex Smith, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy down the stretch and totaled a mere 14 sacks in the last seven games. Two weeks ago they gave up 154 rushing yards to the lowly St. Louis Rams; it is not unreasonable for Willis McGahee and the NFL’s number one rushing offense (164.5 yards per game) to duplicate that number today.

On the other side of the ball Pittsburgh looks like a MASH unit. Their offensive line has been a major weakness for a few years, and now their best lineman, center Maurkice Pouncey is out. Rashard Mendenhall’s season is over with a torn ACL. There’s a very big dropoff to his replacement Isaac Redman, both in terms of gaining yards and holding on to the football.

Then there is the quarterback. One of Ben Roethlisberger’s biggest strengths is his ability to extend plays by rolling out of the pocket while waiting to find an open receiver. His high ankle sprain is going to slow down his ability to do this, which should give Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller an extra split second to get to Roethlisberger; that’s enough to be the difference between getting the pass away and a sack.

I realize that at first glance that it looks like the Broncos’ momentum is headed in the wrong direction, but take a look at those three losses. The first loss was to the Pats, a team that just happens to have the best record in the AFC. After losing in the 2011 season’s most-hyped game they had an emotional letdown, which should be of no surprise, in a loss on the road to Buffalo. Then the third loss was to a team that had already proven that they are a defensive force to be reckoned with under a far better coach; Romeo Crenel’s Chiefs had just stopped the Packers. In other words, I’m not putting too much weight into those three losses; as Houston proved yesterday ending the season that way means nothing once you’re in the post-season.

 

Prediction – Upset Special: Broncos 19, Steelers 13

Denver plus nine points – four units
Under 35 points – two units