The Pittsburgh Steelers are significant favorites over the Denver Broncos in Week 15, but the top team in the AFC West has a chance to pull off the upset at Heinz Field. Denver has been one of the NFL’s best teams at 10-3, and they won’t be easy to beat on Sunday.
Following their home loss to the Raiders last week, the Broncos are getting 6.5 points in Week 15, according to vegasinsider.com. Denver has lost three of six games after a 7-0 start, and they haven’t been this big of an underdog all season.
Pittsburgh has won four of their last five games, improving their record to 8-5. They’ve been dominant in their current two-game winning streak, beating the Colts and Bengals by 48 total points.
Elite Offense vs. Elite Defense
It’s a matchup between the NFL’s No.1 defense and possibly the league’s best offense, now that Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. The Steelers have been scoring at will lately, but it will be difficult for them to keep that up against the Broncos.
Pittsburgh ranks second in total offense, and they’ve scored at least 30 points in five straight games. When Roethlisberger has been on the field, the Steelers have been close to unstoppable, averaging 31.3 points in games that the quarterback has played at least three quarters. In those eight contests, Roethlisberger is averaging just a shade under 350 passing yards. But he hasn’t been good against the best pass defenses on Pittsburgh’s schedule. Against the Seahawks, Patriots, Rams and Bengals, who all rank in the top 17 against the pass, Roethlisberger has thrown three touchdowns and eight interceptions. The quarterback has three games with a passer rating of more than 100.0, all of which came against pass defenses that rank 22nd or worse.
Denver ranks first against the pass and second in opponents’ passer rating. They’ve slowed down some of the league’s best signal callers, holding Aaron Rodgers to just 77 passing yards and Philip Rivers to his second lowest total of the season (202 yards). Tom Brady, though, had a 99.3 passer rating against Denver.
Still no Peyton
If Roethlisberger is able to have a big day or if running back DeAngelo Williams finds a lot of success on the ground, Denver could be in a lot of trouble. Peyton Manning is back at practice, but Brock Osweiler will make his fifth straight start. No matter who plays at quarterback, the Broncos will likely have a difficult time scoring.
The Broncos relied on their defense to win games with Manning at the helm, and they are doing the same with Osweiler on the field. The career backup is an upgrade over Manning, who still leads the NFL in interceptions, but he hasn’t done much to jumpstart Denver’s offense. The Broncos have scored 17 points or less in three of Osweiler’s four starts, and Denver lost in Week 14, despite allowing just 126 total yards. Osweiler has thrown for 300 yards just once, and hasn’t been helped much by the Broncos’ rushing attack, which ranks 21st with 3.9 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh ranks 23rd in total defense and 11th in points allowed. The Steelers have held nine of their 13 opponents to 20 points or fewer in regulation, including three of their last four games. However, the Seahawks did put up 39 points against Pittsburgh in Week 12. The over/under is 44.5 points, and four of the Steelers last five games have totaled at least 53 points.
Denver and Pittsburgh might be the biggest threats to the Patriots in the AFC, but they still have work to do before clinching a playoff berth. The Steelers are currently out of the postseason, and a difficult schedule to end the regular season makes Sunday’s game very important for the Broncos.
With a two-game lead in the AFC West with three games to play, it would be surprising to see Denver miss the playoffs. But they are no guarantee to finish ahead of the second-place Chiefs, who have won six straight games and seem poised to finish the season at 11-5. After Pittsburgh, Denver takes on another tough opponent in Cincinnati , who are the AFC’s No.2 seed. The Broncos could easily lose their next two games, making their Week 17 matchup with the Chargers a “must-win” situation for the division title.
The Steelers trail the Chiefs and Jets for the AFC wild-card spots, even though they all share the same record. But because of the NFL tiebreakers, Pittsburgh controls their own destiny and would make the playoffs with three straight wins. If the Steelers beat the Broncos, they are likely to end the season at 11-5 since they have games remaining against the lowly Ravens and Browns. The AFC North title isn’t completely out of reach now that Andy Dalton is injured, but that would require Cincinnati to lose out.
Denver has a lot of trouble scoring, and it will be tough for them to go into Pittsburgh and get a win. But their defense won’t allow Roethlisberger to light up the scoreboard, keeping the game close until the end.
Pittsburgh over Denver, 20-16