Wow, we could have been spoiled as football fans and saw Ben Roethlisberger vs Peyton Manning this weekend in what could have been the best matchup in the entire playoffs. However we all might be very disappointed on what we get on Sunday. There is a very good chance we do not see Big Ben, Antonio Brown or DeAngelo Williams for the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisbeger is dealing with torn ligament in his throwing shoulder and a sprained AC joint. Even if he is active and does play, he's not going to be able to throw the ball deep, and will likely be limited to short passes and screen passes like we saw on the Steelers game winning drive against the Bengals last Saturday. If that is the case, the team might be better off with a healthy Landry Jones.
To make matters even worse, the Steelers will likely be without Antonio Brown who suffered a nasty concussion on a dirty hit by Vontaze Burfict. That would leave whoever plays quarterback with Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller as their main targets. Not having Brown will really be a blow to Pittsburgh as he is a top 3 receiver in the NFL.
The Denver secondary is very tough. Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward could make it very frustrating on the Steelers receivers and let's not forget that DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller will make either Roethlisberger or Jones' job a whole lot tougher as they bring the pressure.
For a second straight week the Steelers will also likely be without DeAngelo Williams. Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman will split the carries if Williams cannot go. Last week against the Bengals, Toussaint and Todman combined for 123 yards on 28 carries, which was a big surprise to many. Toussaint was also a big help in the passing game, as he hauled in four receptions for 60 yards.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the Broncos look very healthy heading into this game. Peyton Manning is as healthy as he's been all season, both Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson are healthy and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are ready to play.
Peyton has thrown just 9 passes since the middle of November but he's ready to go and shouldn't have to do too much against Pittsburgh this weekend.
Expect a heavy workload for both Hillman and Anderson as the Broncos should control this game from the start and will do what they can to keep Peyton from taking hits. Pittsburgh will be ready on defense though, as they'll look to shut down the Broncos run game. Pittsburgh held the Bengals to 91 rushing yards last week and forced some timely fumbles, thanks to some big hits.
Things could get chippy again this week, as the Steelers defense will have to fired up and play inspired football to keep their team in the game. Ryan Shazier, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons will have to be leaders out on the field and make plays.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are dangerous weapons for the Broncos and if Peyton has to pass often, expect those two to make plays. Neither one of those guys will be intimidated by that Pittsburgh secondary.
All in all this game comes down to health. Denver is in much better shape than Pittsburgh, and it's nearly impossible to win a playoff game without your starting QB healthy. Even if Big Ben plays, he won't be close to 100%. It doesn't help that his #1 receiver and running back are likely out as well. Expect Denver to dominate and cruise to an easy victory at home.