The (11-6) Pittsburgh Steelers will play the (12-4) Denver Broncos Sunday on the road at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in one of the two AFC Divisional Round games and here are the six biggest storylines currently surrounding the playoff game.
Business not booming – The Steelers ruled wide receiver Antonio Brown out for Sunday’s game on Friday with a concussion that’s a huge blow to their offense. Brown caught nearly 35% of all completed passes during the regular season and 10 of the 26 total passing touchdowns went to him. With Brown out, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey will need to step up big time against the Broncos. Additionally, rookie Sammie Coates should dress in place of Brown and see some limited action on Sunday.
Roethlisberger likely to shoulder the load – Despite him suffering a right shoulder injury last Saturday in the AFC Wild Card, it’s sounding like Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will try to give it a go Sunday in Denver against the Broncos. Roethlisberger reportedly did everything the coaches asked him to do on Friday and that included him throwing the full route tree. With Brown out, Roethlisberger will need to spread the football around to the other eligibles and take what the Denver defense gives him underneath without totally ignoring deep shots down the field. Pardon the pun, but this game is on his shoulders.
Manning the cold playoff weather – Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is 0-5 for his career in playoff games where the kickoff temperature was 40 degrees or lower. The current forecast for Sunday in Denver calls for a high of 41, but the time the game rolls around it should be a little colder. Manning has only played 29 offense snaps since week 10 of the season and has only attempted 9 passes during that span of time as well.
Safety dance reunion in Denver – In the Steelers last meeting against the Broncos, Denver safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart both missed the game with injuries. Sunday, both will be back on the field and that will certainly help upgrade their already impressive defensive unit that has been great against the deep pass this season.
Steelers TnT looking to go off again – With running back DeAngelo Williams scheduled to miss his second-straight game with a foot injury, the Steelers running game will once again be in the hands of backups Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Last week, the duo combined for 183 total yards from scrimmage against a very good Cincinnati Bengals defense. On Sunday, TnT will go up against an even tougher defense in the Broncos that led the league in 2015 in rushing defense. How these two running backs play on Sunday might go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
17 or bust – Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked all season about how his unit shoots for holding opponents to 17 points or less. If the Steelers want to have a chance at beating the Broncos Sunday in Denver, their defense will more than likely need to stay under that magic number of 17. Thankfully, the Pittsburgh defense is a very healthy unit heading into this game. However, they do have a tough task ahead of them when it comes to keeping wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both in check while also making sure that tight end Owen Daniels doesn’t go off.