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Broncos vs Steelers: Denver has narrow shot at the playoffs

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A loss on Sunday doesn’t close the playoff window, but a win would help throw it wide open for the Broncos.

Don’t look now, but the Denver Broncos are in the playoff discussion.

Wait, what?

How serious you take that depends on how positive you want to approach the current state of the franchise and the AFC. When it comes to the final wildcard spot, at 4-6 the Broncos are, technically, one game back. As it stands, the Baltimore Ravens (5-5) hold that spot so it’s really a two-game lead given the head-to-head. When you look closer, Denver is behind four other teams that are 5-5.

If the Broncos take care of their end, the outlook for the playoffs improves. Next up is the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1).

As I told Adam Malnati on the latest MHR Radio Podcast, when Denver’s rivals are mentioned, the Steelers are rarely included and I don’t understand why. Some of the best and greatest moments in Broncos’ history have come against Pittsburgh — the overtime win in the wildcard round and three wins in the AFC playoffs, one that led to the organization’s first Super Bowl appearance, the other two bringing Super Bowl wins. Think about that: Two of the three Super Bowl wins came when Denver beat the Steelers in the playoffs.

Can the Broncos keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday?

Offensive Rankings

Pittsburgh: Fifth in overall offense (410.2 yards), 26th in rushing (97.7), fourth in passing (312.5) and fourth in points (29.9).

Denver: Eleventh in overall offense (371.9 yards), eighth in rushing (124.8), 15th in passing (247.1) and 10th in points (22.8).

Defense Rankings

Pittsburgh: Sixth in overall defense (326.8 yards), ninth in rushing (99.6), seventh in passing (227.2) and eighth in points (22.5).

Denver: Twenty-second in overall defense (375.5 yards), 27th in rushing (127.9), 18th in passing (247.6) and 13th in points (23.5).

Here are our keys to the game.

Smack Big Ben

Bradley Chubb, Von Miller and the rest of the Orange Rush (the Orange Rush shirt is now on a Black-Friday deal of $15, and if you use the promo code BFSAVE15 at checkout, you’ll save an extra 15 percent) have to pressure, hit and sack Ben Roethlisberger as much as possible. Think of the 2015 AFC title game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. If Denver is able to get consistent pressure on Roethlisberger that limits the big plays and damage he/the Steelers offense can inflict. — Ian St. Clair

Slow down Antonio Brown

If you watched Pittsburgh’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, you know that shutting down AB is key to slowing the Steelers offense. Chris Harris Jr. will need to play better than he did in L.A against Keenan Allen if the Broncos want a chance to stay close in this one. — Kevin Gillikin

Get the rookies going again

Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Courtland Sutton, and Chubb have all been impact players. Each of them were huge in Denver’s win against the Los Angeles Chargers. If the Broncos can continue to have big games, Denver has a chance at a huge upset victory. — Adam Malnati

Case Keenum

The Steelers defense will leave receivers open in order to get pressure, so it’s crucial that the Broncos quarterback is methodical with his reads. If he starts to get frazzled because of pressure it will be a long day for the Denver offense, but there will be opportunities to move the ball up and down the field. — Just_JoRo

Offensive line

he Broncos’ patchwork offensive line performed well above expectations vs the Chargers and kept Keenum pretty clean. They’ll need to do that again vs Pittsburgh to give Keenum time to exploit gaps in that secondary. — Taylor Kothe

Win on third down

Denver’s offense has been absolutely horrendous in terms of third-down conversions all year long and it has been an issue for its defense as well. The Steelers are one of the best teams in that respect on both sides of the ball. In order for the Broncos to win at home on Sunday, they are going to have to change a season-long trend of third-down woes. They need to sustain long drives on offense, which will keep Pittsburgh’s potent offense on the sideline, and come up with several big plays on defense to force three-and-outs. — Christopher Hart

Defense

Denver has kept high-flying offenses like the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs to season lows. What we saw with the Steelers this year has been their offense flying high, or coming back from a massive deficit like last week against Jacksonville. What the Broncos need to do is hold Pittsburgh to 20(ish) points and not let up in the fourth quarter, which is where Denver lost to the Chiefs twice and Rams. Keep your foot on the gas and stop allowing fourth-quarter comebacks. — Pete Baron

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What are your keys to victory for the Broncos?