Football

AFC GameDay: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was a difference maker against the Broncos on Dec. 20. His absence could be the difference in their rematch in the playoffs.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was a difference maker against the Broncos on Dec. 20. His absence could be the difference in their rematch in the playoffs. AP

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) at 1. Denver Broncos (12-4)

TV: 3:40 p.m. Sunday, KTVT/11 Line: Broncos by 7  1/2

Playoff records: Steelers 34-22; Broncos 20-19

Last playoff game: Steelers won wild-card game 18-16 at Cincinnati Bengals, Jan. 9, 2016. Broncos lost divisional game 24-13 to Indianapolis Colts, Jan. 11, 2015.

2015 leaders: Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger 319-469 for 3,938 yards, 21 TD, 16 INT; RB DeAngelo Williams 200-907, 11 TD; WR Antonio Brown 136-1,834, 10 TD. Broncos: QB Peyton Manning 198-331 for 2,249 yards, 9 TDs, 17 INT; RB Ronnie Hillman 207-863, 7 TDs; WR Demaryius Thomas 105-1,304, 6 TDs.

Notable: Backup quarterbacks, backup running backs. Big deal. The Steelers have won games with both. But the idea of playing without receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) is a different animal. Over the past three seasons, no one can trump his numbers — 375 catches, 5,031 yards, 21 touchdowns — or underestimate his affect on a defense. Pittsburgh’s game plan is to overwhelm with offense. That would be challenging against any defense with a sore-shouldered Ben Roethlisberger, two unproven though promising runners (Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jordan Todman), and no Brown, let alone against the Broncos, the NFL’s best defense overall (283.1), against the pass (199.6) and No. 3 against the run (83.6). Roethlisberger is the only QB to throw for more than 282 yards against Denver this season, hitting 40 of 55 passes for 380 yards and three scores as the Steelers rallied from a 27-10 deficit to beat the Broncos 34-27 a month ago. Big Ben is 11-5 in the postseason, including 6-2 on the road. Peyton Manning’s numbers this year (59.8 completion percent, 9 TDs, 17 interceptions ) hardly resemble those of a savior. But his savvy and surrounding cast should make a difference. A victory would make Gary Kubiak just the third Broncos coach to win his first playoff game with Denver, joining Red Miller (1977) and John Fox (2001). These teams have met seven times in the playoffs, with Denver leading the series 4-3. In five of those years, the winner represented the AFC in the Super Bowl.

 

Injury report

STEELERS: Out: WR Antonio Brown (concussion), RB DeAngelo Williams (foot). Questionable: RB Will Johnson (hamstring), QB Ben Roethlisberger (right shoulder). Probable: S Will Allen (not injury related), S Robert Golden (shoulder), LB James Harrison (not injury related), DE Cameron Heyward (back), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), TE Matt Spaeth (not injury related), LB Vince Williams (hamstring). BRONCOS: Questionable: QB Brock Osweiler (knee). Probable: TE Owen Daniels (knees), LB Todd Davis (shoulder), C Max Garcia (groin), CB Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder), DE Malik Jackson (illness), QB Peyton Manning (foot), LB Brandon Marshall (ankle), LB Von Miller (illness), G Robert Myers Jr. (illness), S Darian Stewart (hamstring), RB Juwan Thompson (illness), S T.J. Ward (ankle), LB DeMarcus Ware (knee).

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