The Pittsburgh Steelers versus Denver Broncos divisional round matchup is a tale of two "beat-up" quarterbacks, and the game may hinge on which legendary passer can manage the game best. Ben Roethlisberger is nursing an injured shoulder he suffered late in the wild-card round against Cincinnati, while Peyton Manning has dealt with foot, rib and shoulder issues throughout the entire season. Denver, however, employs one of the elite defenses in the league and may not need a fully-equipped Manning to earn a victory.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, employs one of the worst defenses in the AFC and will be reliant on Roethlisberger and the offense to win this matchup. The Steelers averaged over 30 points per game during their last six matchups to close out the regular season and will need every bit of that production this weekend in Denver. Let's take a closer look at the divisional round matchup with predictions and analysis.
Steelers at Broncos Betting Story Lines
Pittsburgh was able to beat Denver when the two teams meet during Week 15, with Roethlisberger throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers defense, which was shredded early in the game by second string-quarterback Brock Osweiler, came up huge when it mattered most and shut down two Denver drives late in the fourth quarter. If Roethlisberger can enter this matchup without any major shoulder issues, Pittsburgh should have every opportunity to challenge the Broncos defense. In fact, the Steelers were the only team to score more than 29 points against Denverall year.
For the Broncos, Manning will be back under center for the first time since Week 10, and the quarterback may be the healthiest he has been all season. However, Manning may not be the key to this game as Denver has already shown it can win without him as the team went 5-2 with Osweiler taking over quarterback duties. The key for the Broncos will be on the defensive end and in the secondary to be specific, with TJ Ward, Darian Stewart and Omar Bolden all returning from injuries during the final week of the regular season.
Denver's secondary is downright nasty against the pass, and it ended the year ranked first in fewest passing yards allowed and fewest total yards allowed. In fact, Denver's defense is just dominant on all parts of the field and allowed the fourth-fewest points in the league and ranked No. 3 in rushing defense. The question for bettors heading into this matchup is how much do they believe in Roethlisberger, because he will need to be at the top of his game against an elite Broncos defense.
Steelers at Broncos Betting Odds and Trends
Denver is currently a seven-point favorite across the board at each Doc's Sports affiliated sportsbooks, with the total set at either 39 or 39.5. Neither team ended the regular season with an impressive ATS record as Denver went 8-8 and Pittsburgh went 9-6-1. The teams only met once over the last three years, in Week 15 of this season, with the Steelers earning the win. Denver is 1-4 ATS over its last five home games, while Pittsburgh is 4-1 ATS during its last five divisional round playoff games. Other than those stats, there are no positive or negative trends of importance that stand out for either teams. Futures-wise, Denver has +185 AFC title odds and +550 Super Bowl odds, while Pittsburgh is getting +550 AFC and +1100 Super Bowl odds.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Steelers at Broncos Predictions
The analysis of this matchup hinges on the Steelers, because Denver's defense will certainly show up and do what it has done all year. On the offensive side of the ball, while Manning may have lost a few steps physically, he is still as prepared and as mentally-sharp as ever, and he should be able to manage the game and put points on the board. The question for bettors is "How much do you believe in Roethlisberger?"
Denver is favored by seven points, which is a big number for a team that might struggle to score points. Many NFL experts have already dropped the idea that Roethlisberger may be exaggerating his shoulder injury to throw the Broncos off. Expect a close defensive battle that probably sees the Broncos win but not cover. Take Pittsburgh's experience and poise during big games and the seven points. Manning has historically struggled in this spot, and a Pittsburgh cover feels solid.
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Read more articles by George Monroy
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