PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ DENVER BRONCOS
Vegas Line: Broncos + 8.5
Rob’s Line: Broncos + 5.5
I’ve held back my bet of the week until last. One thing to add to that is that while Vegas seem to be completely writing off Denver, you can actually still snare 9 points on the Broncos at bet365, which I find astonishing. One of the first reasons for my inredulity is because Pittsburgh are 2-6 covering the spread over their last eight and they also come into this one a little banged up. I do have to admit here that it’s not all plain sailing for the home team, believe me, but more of that in a while. Let’s focus on the defending AFC Champion Steelers.
Yes, here they are defending the conference title against perhaps the most talked about team this season. The Broncos barely deserve to be here, in my opinion, but they are and I can’t begrudge them their place after my beloved Seahawks secured a home playoff game against the Saints on wild card weekend last year having gone 7-9 through the regular season. Anyhow, I digress…back to Steel Town. They have three significant injuries and depending on your point of view, probably the most important of those is Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle. He’ll definitely start tonight, but he’s struggled ever since first injuring it against Cleveland in Week 14 and having aggravated it again last week against the same opponents, Roethlisberger himself on Wednesday rated his ankle as “five” out of ten.
Should you not view Big Ben’s injury as that significant against a team that most of America expects them to beat, then you’ll be more concerned by the fact that Rashard Mendenhall was placed on injured reserve this week with a torn ACL. Isaac Redman will pick up the slack at running back and faces a Denver run defense ranked 22nd in the league and, depending upon how Roethlisberger’s ankle is holding up, he could see more action than he may have banked on…not that he’s not game ready because every backup who saw significant playing time last week is ready come the playoffs.
Pittsburgh’s third major injury worry relates to Roethlisberger, namely the protection he receives as center Maurkice Pouncey is definitely out with a sprained ankle. This may be the least significant injury I’ve mentioned, but I love that this sport is built around what goes on in the trenches and Ben will miss the fulcrum of his line.
I’ve not mentioned Tim Tebow yet…what’s that all about? It’s probably because I’ve read about him all week, but it has been my own doing as I’ve been wondering how he can possibly get around the league’s number one ranked defense to help protect the juicy points on offer. He was pretty abysmal last week against Kansas City, completing just 6 of 22 passes, in the meantime completely ruining running back Willis McGahee’s day. McGahee ran for 145 yards on 28 carries at 5.2 yards a pop and yet he ends up on the losing side. Not only that, but he ends up on a losing side scoring just three points with stats like his. That’s a rare occurence and is a wonderful anomaly in a sport dominated by statistics.
John Fox and his coaching staff will have prepared meticulously for this one, devising scheme upon scheme for Tebow in an attempt to throw a wily Steelers defense off balance and it’s intriguing to see what they come up with. All Tebow has to do to cover the spread is not make gargantuan errors, thus throwing the game away. I’m not saying that the Broncos have any realistic chance at winning, I just need them not to lose by a touchdown plus a field goal!
I think this could be a low scoring affair and wouldn’t be at all surprised if neither team scored twenty points (Denver definitely won’t) so, that coupled with Pittsburgh’s recent 2-6 record against the spread, I rate nine points as a massive start for a home playoff team, especially on wild card weekend. It won’t be pretty to watch for us rooting for the Broncos, but here’s to it proving fruitful.