by Mike Hayes - 01/18/2006
Though there is no clear-cut consensus as to who will emerge from Sunday's AFC Championship as the conference rep in Super Bowl XL, one thing is likely - some good old-fashioned smash-mouth football.
The Broncos, who will host the Steelers Sunday at 3 p.m. EST for the right to move on to Super Bowl XL have been made a 3-point favorite in the game, a rather small number when you consider the Broncos perfect 8-0 home mark. The point total on the game is between 41 and 41.5.
On the money line you have to lay $175 on the Broncos and will get $155 on the Steelers.
Not only does this match-up feature two of the most storied franchises in the AFC, but it offers two teams that have had similar recipes for success this season.
Run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense.
The Steelers, who as the first six seed to advance to a conference title game are looking to be the first to play in a Super Bowl, boast the league's top defense in terms of yards allowed at just 284 per game, with just 86 yards allowed-per game on the ground.
The second-seeded Broncos allow 313 yards-per-game, which puts the defense in the top half of the league at number seven. The rush defense, however, is right behind Pittsburgh's at just 85 yards a contest.
The Broncos, led by Mike Anderson, boast the top rushing game in the AFC, with the Steelers, who rely on the two-headed attack of Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis, are right behind at No. 3.
So a key to the game will be who can establish the better ground game and take pressure of their QB, both of who find themselves among the top ranked signal callers in their conference thanks to their team's running prowess.
A look at last week's games is another indication of how similar these teams are. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, the AFC's No. 3 rated passer at 98.6 percent, was good on 14-24 for 197 yards with two touchdown passes and one INT in leading his team to one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
Just the night before, Jake Plummer, whose 90.2 QB rating is good for fifth best in the AFC, connected on 15-26 for the same 197 yards with one touch down pass and one INT.
On the year Plummer was good on 61 percent of his passes 3,366 yards with 18 touchdowns against 7 interceptions.
Roethlisberger attempted nearly 200 fewer passes, and as a result 1,000 fewer yards than Plummer, but completed 63 percent and managed 17 touchdowns with 9 interceptions.
Although they did defeat the Patriots last week, the Broncos defensive effort wasn't pretty - they allowed 420 yards, 341 in the air, and will need to improve against the Steelers. Overall the Pittsburgh defensive effort was solid as they allowed Peyton Manning and the Colts 305 total yards.
In just his second year in the league, Roethlisberger finds himself in his second AFC title game, a win away from putting Pittsburgh in their sixth Super Bowl. For Coach Bill Cowher, the title game is his 6th in 14 seasons in Pittsburgh and fourth in five years. The Steelers are 1-4 in those games, including last season's 41-27 pasting at the hands of the Super Bowl champion Patriots.
While Denver is known as one of the toughest places in the league to play the road has been kind to the Steelers, who hope to become just the second team, the first being the 1985 New England Patriots, to reach the Super Bowl after winning three playoff games on the road. The Pats were then routed in XX by the Bears, 46-10.
After posting a 6-2 regular season road record the Steelers have won at Cincinnati and Indianapolis. It is also worth noting that the Steelers four losses in recent title games all occurred at home, as did their win against the Colts before losing to Dallas 27-17 in XXX.
The Broncos are one win away from their 7th Super Bowl appearance and their last since they trounced Atlanta 34-19 in XXXIII, their second consecutive title.
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