Free NFL Wildcard Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos NFL Playoff Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on FOX 1/8/12: Perhaps no Wild Card matchup has more storylines than Sunday’s meeting between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. For starters, the 12-4 Steelers have to go on the road to play an 8-8 Denver team by virtue if the Broncos winning the AFC West. Not to mention that health concerns abound for Pittsburgh, who has several big name players out or dealing with injuries. More importantly, the media darling that is Tim Tebow will be making his first career playoff start against the top-rated Steelers’ defense. The end result is a highly-anticipated game, with the defending AFC champion Steelers giving eight points.
To say that the Steelers are dealing with a few injuries is an understatement. Pittsburgh is decimated at the skill positions. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is out for the year with a knee injury, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a sprained ankle, and star wide receiver Mike Wallace is dealing with a knee injury. In addition, center Maurkice Pouncey is likely out as well, leaving less protection for a already-hobbled Roethlisberger. On defense linebacker James Harrison, defensive end LaMarr Woodley and safety Troy Polamalu are all battling nagging injuries. Not to mention that safety Ryan Clark is out because of a blood disorder that acts up at high altitudes. Needless to say, the Steelers won’t be at full strength Sunday.
However, Pittsburgh may not need to play its best game to get by the Broncos. After leading a string of incredible comebacks, Tebow’s magic has worn off down the stretch. Denver closed the season with three straight losses, and the offense became a turnover machine. Tebow must now try to rebuild his confidence and make some plays against a Steelers’ defense that was the toughest unit in the NFL. Even when they were playing well, the Broncos weren’t exactly scoring a ton of points. It’s tough to envision a scenario where Denver approaches 20 points this weekend.
Of course, the banged up Steelers’ offense could find points tough to come by as well against a much improved Broncos’ defense. With defensive end Elvis Dumervil healthy and rookie linebacker Von Miller adapting quickly to life in the NFL, Denver has been able to put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That could spell trouble for Roethlisberger, who will be without his trademark mobility thanks to his ankle injury. Given time in the pocket, the Steelers have the speed at the receiver position with Antonio Brown and Wallace to hurt the Denver secondary. However, those opportunities should be limited with Roethlisberger being unable to extend plays with his legs.
The X-factor in the game could be Pittsburgh running back Isaac Redman. He will be filling in for Mendenhall, and the Steelers will likely lean on him with the injury to Roethlisberger. If Redman can establish enough of a ground game to slow down the Denver pass rush, Pittsburgh’s receivers could have the extra time they need to get open and make big plays.
With the injuries on the Pittsburgh side and the inefficiencies of the Broncos’ offense, Sunday’s game has low scoring written all over it. A defensive battle definitely favors the Steelers, who have given up nine points or less in five of their last six games. The last few weeks have shown that teams are figuring out how to defend Tebow by forcing him into passing situations he isn’t comfortable with, and Pittsburgh is as well equipped as any team to dictate the tempo with its defense. Denver just doesn’t have enough weapons or rhythm on offense to beat the Steelers, but with all the injuries to the Pittsburgh offense combined with the Broncos’ ball control offense, the game should stay close throughout.
Prediction: Denver Broncos (+9) Cover the Spread
Free NFL Football Picks and Predictions: Denver +9
|NFL Playoff Football: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
Time: 1 PM EST on CBS
Vegas Odds – Favorite: Pittsburgh -9 | Total: Over/Under 34
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