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Broncos vs. Steelers Wildcard Preview

The (8-8) Denver Broncos, winners of the AFC West division, will host the (12-4) AFC North division champion Wildcard Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card playoff round this week. It is the first playoff appearance for the Broncos since January 22, 2006 in the 2005 season AFC Championship. Ironically, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers that defeated them by the score of 34-17. This game marks the 7th time the Broncos and Steelers have met in the postseason (3-3). In five of those, the winner has gone on to Super Bowl.

Weather and Conditions

The game is set for 2:30 pm MST on Sunday January 8th at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. CBS will broadcast the game with Jim Nantz calling the play by play and Phil Simms providing the color commentary.

The current forecast for the game calls for chilly weather.

Chance Snow
Temperature: 16/32f

For the latest up to the minute weather conditions, go here.

Officiating the game will be Ron Winter with Ed Hochuli's Umpire and Side Judge.

R Ron Winter 14
U Michalek 115 U Hall 49
HL Mapp 52
LJ Arthur 108
FJ Steenson 88
SJ Hill 97 SJ Torbert 62
BJ Reels 83
RA Lapetina
VO Pearson

Injuries and external factors

The Steelers will be without their leading tackler FS Ryan Clark (100 TKL, 1 SK, 5 PD, 1 INT), who cannot play in Denver due to his sickle cell medical condition. RB Rashard Mendenhall (228 carries, 928 yds,a 4.1 avg, 9 TDs and 18 catches for 154 yds) has a torn ACL and will not play. QB Ben Roethlisberger is hobbled by a bad left ankle. They have also lost RB Baron Batch, QB Byron Leftwich, T Willie Colon, DE Aaron Smith, P Daniel Sepulveda, NT Chris Hoke, RB Jonathan Dwyer and DB Curtis Brown to Injured Reserve.

Just this week, Pittsburgh placed LB Chris Carter on Injured Reserve and promoted RB Chad Spann to the active roster from their Practice Squad. CB and ST's standout Anthony Madison re-signed with the Steelers on Tuesday and is expected to play in Denver because Cortez Allen has a separated shoulder. Madison will play as a Special Teams "gunner."

Maurkice Pouncey had a setback in practice on Wednesday. If he can't suit up on Sunday, Doug Legursky will take his place.


This chart represents the Rankings for the Steelers Offense as compared to the Broncos Defense. I have also included last week's rankings for the Broncos so you can see progress or regress. The DVOA stat is taken from Football Outsiders and is explained here.

Steelers Broncos
Offense Rank Category Rank Defense
20.3 22nd Points For 24th 24.4
372.3 12th Total Yds 20th 357.8
253.4 10th Pass Yds 18th 231.5
118.9 14th Rush Yds 22nd 126.3
42 10th Sacks 10th 41
N/A N/A Forced Fumbles 26th 11
15 T-17th fewest Interceptions T-28th 9
46% 4th 3rd Downs 6th 33.50%
16.30% 6th Overall DVOA 19th 6.40%
-13 T-28th Turnover Margin T-26th -12
77 14th QB Hits Allowed N/A N/A

The Pittsburgh Quarterbacks are Ben Roethlisberger (324/513 for 4077 yards, a 63.2% Completion rate, 21 TDs, 14 INTs and a 90.1 QB Rating), Charlie Batch (15/24 for 208 yds, a 62.5% Comp, 0 TDs, 1 INT, and a 72.9 QB Rating) and Dennis Dixon.

Since Running Back Rashard Mendenhall is out, Isaac Redman (110 Car, 479 yds, a 4.4 avg, 3 TDs and 18 Rec, 78 yds) will take over the starting spot. Redman lost two fumbles in a 13-9 win at Cleveland on Sunday, though it was the first game in which he has fumbled this season. Mewelde Moore (22 Car, 157 yds, a 7.1 avg. and 11 Rec, 104 yds, 1 TD), John Clay (10 Car, 41 yds, a 4.1 avg, 1 TD) and Chad Spann are the other options. The lone Fullback is David Johnson (12 Rec, 91 yds, 1 TD).

The starting Wide Receivers are Mike Wallace (72 Rec, 1193 yds, a 16.6 avg, 8 TDs) and Antonio Brown (69 Rec, 1108 yds, a 16.1 avg, 2 TDs). Hines Ward (46 Rec, 381 yds, 2 TDs) is the 3rd Receiver and Emmanuel Sanders (22 Rec, 288 yds, 2 TDs), Jerricho Cotchery (16 Rec, 237 yds, 2 TDs) and Arnaz Battle fill out the rest of this unit.

The Tight Ends are Heath Miller (51 Rec, 631 yds, 2 TDs) and Weslye Saunders (4 rec, 29 yds, 1 TD).

The current Offensive Line is in it's 9th or 10th combination this year due to various injuries. Last week's starters were LT Max Starks (2 False Starts, 1 Hold, 4.5 Sacks Allowed), LG Chris Kemoeatu (4 Pen, 2 HLD, 3.5 SA), C Maurkice Pouncey (3 Pen, 2 HLD, 3.5 SA), RG Ramon Foster (1 FS, 1 HLD, 4 SA) and RT Marcus Gilbert (4 FS, 7 SA). Jonathan Scott (5 Pen, 3 HLD, 4.5 SA), Doug Legursky (2 Pen, 1 HLD), Trai Essex (1 FS, 2 HLD, 2 SA) and Jamon Meredith are the backups.


This chart represents the Rankings for the Steelers Defense as compared to the Broncos Offense.

Steelers Broncos
Defense Rank Category Rank Offense
14.2 1st Points Against 25th 19.3
271.8 1st Total Yds 23rd 316.6
171.9 1st Pass Yds 31st 152.1
99.8 8th Rush Yds 1st 164.5
35 T-17th Sacks 9th 41
10 T-27th Forced Fumbles N/A N/A
11 T-24th Interceptions T-8th fewest 13
39% 19th 3rd Downs 30th 30.80%
-5.80% 7th Overall DVOA 23rd -5.10%
101/854 T-16th Penalties T-16th 101/842
N/A N/A QB Hits Allowed 24th 68

The Steelers employ a 3-4 Defensive front. LDE Ziggy Hood (31 TKL, 1.5 SK, 1 PD), NT Casey Hampton (31 TKL), RDE Brett Keisel (48 TKL, 3 SK, 6 PD, 2 FF) are the starting linemen and Cameron Heyward (11 TKL, 1 SK, 1 PD, 1 FF), Steve McLendon (13 TKL, 1 SK) and Al Woods are the backups.

The Linebacking corp for the Steelers is a good one. LOLB LaMarr Woodley (39 TKL, 9 SK, 2 PD, 1 INT), LILB James Farrior (78 TKL, 2 SK, 3 PD), RILB Lawrence Timmons (93 TKL, 2.0 SK, 1 FF, 5 PD, 1 INT) and ROLB James Harrison (59 TKL, 9 SK, 2 FF) are the starters and Larry Foote (47 TKL, 1.5 SK, 1 PD), Jason Worilds (38 TKL, 3 SK, 1 FF), Stevenson Sylvester (7 TKL, 1 FF), Chris Carter (3 TKL) and Mortty Ivy (1 TKL) are the 2nd teamers.

In the Defensive backfield, the Left side Cornerbacks are William Gay (61 TKL, 13 PD, 1 INT) and Bryant McFadden (10 TKL, 1 PD, 1 FF). Ike Taylor (44 TKL, 14 PD, 2 INT) starts on the right side and Keenan Lewis (37 TKL, 6 PD,1 INT) backs him up. The Strong Safeties are Troy Polamalu (91 TKL, 1 SK, 14 PD, 2 INT), Will Allen (9 TKL), and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (3 TKL). Ryan Mundy (37 TKL, 1 PD, 1 INT) will start at Free Safety in place of Ryan Clark.


This chart represents the Rankings for both teams Special Teams Units.

Steelers Rank Special Teams Rank Broncos
44.7 18th Punt-Avg(Gross) 6th 47.4
38.6 19th Punt-Avg (Net) 8th 40.2
10.5 13th Punt Ret-Avg 3rd 12.7
8.4 12th PR-Avg Allowed 19th 11.5
25.1 8th Kick Ret-Avg 11th 24.5
23.7 17th KR-Avg Allowed 12th 24.6
23/31 31st FG Made/Att 27th 19/25
1.60% 9th Overall DVOA 15th 0.50%

The Steelers Kicker is Shaun Suisham, Shaun is 23/31 (74.2%) on Field Goal Attempts this season. His longest was 51 yards and he has been blocked one time. Suisham is 36 for 36 on Extra Points. He has Kicked off 72 times and the average landing area is around the 4 yard line. 28 (38.8%) have gone for touchbacks and 43 have been returned for a 23.7 yard average.

The Punter and Holder is Jeremy Kapinos. Jeremy came in after Daniel Sepulveda went on Injured Reserve during Week 8. He has punted 34 times for a gross average of 45.0 and a 38.3 Net average. Kapinos has put 10 Inside the 20, 1 went for a touchback, 8 were Fair Caught and 21 were returned for a 9.9 average.

The Long Snapper is 7th year man Greg Warren, who has 14 career Special Teams Tackles.

The Pittsburgh Return men are Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Brown Emmanuel has 27 Kick Returns for a 27,3 average and 30 Punt Returns for a 10.8 yard average and one Touchdown. He has also made 26 Fair catches. Sanders has 5 Kick Returns for an 18.6 average and 3 Punt Returns for a 7.3 yard average.


Pittsburgh is Denver’s most common postseason opponent (6 GP) with the club owning a 3-3 all-time record against the Steelers in the playoffs, including a 3-2 mark at home. As I stated in the preamble, the winner of these games has gone to the Super Bowl 5 times and in three of those instances, claimed the Lombardi Trophy. That is significant.

The Wise Guys in Las Vegas have the Steelers favored by 8.5 points.


I won't lie to you, this is going to be a tough matchup for Denver. They have lost their last three games and they are going up against the #1 Defense in the NFL. I am more concerned with what the Broncos can do Offensively against the Steelers Defense than I am about Pittsburgh's Offense matching up with the Denver Defense. Still, the slate is wiped clean and it's a new, albeit short season and on any given Sunday, one team can beat another in the NFL. It only takes one win to advance.

Go Broncos!

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