The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to continue their December success, hoping to win a 10th consecutive game during the month in a streak that extends back into the 2013 season and is currently the longest active streak in the league.
To do so, they will have to take advantage of their final home game in taking down the 10-3 Denver Broncos, who had gone 3-1 in their last four games without Peyton Manning, but have had trouble scoring with Brock Osweiler.
As I wrote earlier in the day, the Broncos have only scored an average of 19 points per game in the four games that Osweiler has started. Six points came in overtime and another seven points came via an interception return, so the offense has only produced a total of 63 points in regulation in four games.
The offense has also produced three-and-outs in about two of every five drives, an average of about four or five per game. If the Steelers defense can manage a few of those and provide a short field for Ben Roethlisberger, that could well be the difference in this game, as the Broncos defense has been every bit as good as its offense has been bad.
The Broncos defense leads the league in sacks with 44 on the year, but the Steelers are also up there with the league leaders, posting 38 sacks through the first 13 games, with already represents a five-year high with three games in hand.
And Denver’s offensive line just allowed Osweiler to be sacked five times by one player in the last game. Which was not an aberration. In 177 drop backs this year, Osweiler has been sacked 17 times overall, which is a sack in approximately nine drop backs. Roethlisberger has been brought down less than half as often.
Putting up points against this defense will not be easy, but the Patriots did manage to score 24 on them on the road, which could be enough for this Steelers team to secure their ninth victory as they strive to keep pace in the AFC Wildcard race while nursing the dim flame of a division title hope.
To that end, the Steelers are riding a franchise-best five-game streak of putting up at least 30 points, during which span they have gone 4-1, bested only by a Seahawks offense that has been on fire lately, and which took place in Seattle.
Pittsburgh has been significantly more successful putting up points at home in addition to keeping points off the board from their opponents. They have turned the ball over about as frequently, but have also significantly taken the ball away more. They have a minus-four turnover differential on the road, but that figure is plus-eight at Heinz Field.
While a loss would not demolish their playoff hopes—a Jets loss or tie to the Patriots would be all that is required to put them back in control of their own destiny—a win would open up many more doors, including to the fifth seed as a possibility, with even the division still in play.