DENVER, CO - JANUARY 01: Offensive guard Chris Kuper #73 of the Denver Broncos is taken off the field after suffering a leg injury in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 1, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
No one yet, but being underdogs is exactly where this Denver Broncos team needs to be. 8.5 point home underdogs is a massive slap to the face of every player in that locker room, especially so since the home team is generally spotted 3 points.
The $64,000 question is, will Tim Tebow shake loose from his funk and start throwing the ball with authority and confidence again. Well, that's one of the $64,000 questions. There is another and I think the answer to it will play a larger role in how this game plays out than the questions about Tebow.
That question is, How will the offensive line perform without Chris Kuper?
All of the attention seems to be on Tim Tebow, the Broncos defense, play calling, etc etc... No one seems concerned about the loss of the Captain of the offensive line, the anchor of the offensive line, and the most experienced veteran of the offensive line. Of all the linemen we could have lost to injury, Kuper may have hurt the most.
I am sure Russ Hochstein will fill in admirably, but there is no replacing the leadership, experience and toughness that Kuper brought to this line all year long. The mauler mentality began once the Broncos went run heavy with Tebow at quarterback. The coaches discovered they had all the pieces in place to run the ball at will, but now we get to find out if they can do it without the heart and soul of the offensive line out there. I'm not so sure.
Which means more pressure will be placed on Tim Tebow to make plays - something he hasn't had the confidence to do in nearly a month. The key to this game will come down to execution and intensity. This team absolutely must play with a high level of intensity all game long. Make this Steelers team pay dearly for every year gained or given up.
Without Kuper in the lineup, the Broncos may not be able to run the ball as effectively. I truly believe he will be the difference between a 150-200 yard output and a 100-150 yard output. Which means, the Broncos will need to throw the ball on third down if they want to win this game. So once again, we come back to Tim Tebow. With a reduced rushing attack, the game rests squarely on the confidence of one Tim Tebow.
I can never predict a Broncos loss in the playoffs. Ever. So I have to believe Tebow will return to his pre-3(4) interception performance against the Buffalo Bills and will lead the Broncos to a comfortable lead early in this game. I wasn't joking when I predicted the Broncos would win 31-16 in Kirk's contest post. I think if its close, Big Ben will come alive to win the game and the Steelers D will swallow up Tebow. We all know Tebow has competitive greatness, but so do other quarterbacks and Ben Roethlisberger has several more years of big game experience along with the best defense over the past decade backing him up. A tall order for a 15 game starter.
As for the rest of the team, its time to let the dogs out. Play wild, play angry, play like you aren't even supposed to be here! All indications point towards the Broncos players doing just that...
Those are my two biggest questions heading into tomorrows game. What are yours?