Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sunday, December 20, 2015, 4:25 pm Eastern, TV: CBS, NFL Sunday Ticket
Opening Line: Pittsburgh -6 1/2
Current Line: Pittsburgh -6 1/2 (-115)
Opening Total: 45
Current Total: 46
Opening Money Line: Steelers -275 / Broncos +225
Current Money Line: Steelers -290 / Broncos +230
Two AFC playoff contenders meet Sunday as the 8-5 Pittsburgh Steelers host the 10-3 Denver Broncos. The Steelers are in second place in the AFC North two games behind the 10-3 Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh is also tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the last wild card spot in the AFC, but Kansas City holds the head to head tie-breaker. Both teams are a half game behind the 9-5 New York Jets who beat the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night. A Pittsburgh loss would give Cincinnati the division title
Denver leads the AFC West by two games over the Chiefs. The Broncos are also tied with the Bengals for the #2 seed in the AFC, but both teams are behind the 11-2 New England Patriots. The Bengals hold the tie breaker via a better conference record. The two teams play each other next Monday. Denver can clinch the AFC West with a win against Pittsburgh and a Kansas City loss. A Denver win Sunday would at least clinch a playoff spot.
Denver leads the series 18-10-1 against Pittsburgh. The Broncos have won 4 of the last 5 against the Steelers, including 31-19 in Denver in 2012. The last four games in the series have been played in Denver. Denver hasn’t played in Pittsburgh since 2006.
Denver is coached by Gary Kubiak. The Broncos have home wins over the Baltimore Ravens 19-13, Minnesota Vikings 23-20, Green Bay Packers 29-10 and Patriots 30-24 in overtime, along with road wins over the Kansas City Chiefs 31-24, Detroit Lions 24-12, Oakland Raiders 16-10, Cleveland Browns 26-23 in overtime, Chicago Bears 17-15 and San Diego Chargers 17-3. Denver has home losses to the Chiefs 29-13 and Raiders 15-12 last week, along with a road loss at the Indianapolis Colts 27-24. The loss to the Raiders snapped a three game winning streak for the Broncos.
Denver was a 6 point favorite against Oakland last week and the total was 43. The Broncos kicked four first half field goals to take a 12-0 lead into halftime. Oakland scored a touchdown and a safety in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, Oakland scored to take a 15-12 lead, but went for two and missed to make it 15-12. Denver would have four more possessions including a missed 49 yard field goal, but they couldn’t score. The Broncos held the Raiders to just 126 yards, but Denver was unable to overcome 2 turnovers. Having to settle for four field goals in the first half, including four inside 35 yards didn’t help matters either. Denver is 7-6 ATS and the total is 4-8-1 this season.
Pittsburgh is coached by Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have home wins over the San Francisco 49ers 43-18, Arizona Cardinals 25-13, Oakland Raiders 38-35, Cleveland Browns 30-9 and Indianapolis Colts 45-10, along with road wins at the St. Louis Rams 12-6, San Diego Chargers 24-20 and Cincinnati Bengals 33-20 last week. Pittsburgh has road losses at the New England Patriots 28-21, Kansas City Chiefs 23-13 and Seattle Seahawks 39-30, along with home losses to the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in overtime and Cincinnati Bengals 16-10.
Pittsburgh was a 1 point underdog at Cincinnati last week and the total was 49. The Steelers jumped out to a 13-0 lead early and would never trail. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a broken thumb in the first half and was replaced by A.J. McCarron. After a Cincinnati pick six made it 23-7 Pittsburgh early in the second half, Cincinnati would never get closer than 13 points. The Bengals were unable to overcome 3 turnovers. Pittsburgh is 8-4-1 ATS and the total is 5-8 this season.
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Denver is outscoring teams 22-17 this season. The Broncos are #1 in points allowed. Denver averages 339 yards per game on offense, including 240 passing and 99 rushing yards. The Broncos are #24 in total offense. On defense, Denver is allowing 273 total yards including 188 passing and 84 rushing yards. Denver leads the league in total and pass defense and is #3 in rush defense. The Broncos are 68/197 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 62/189. Denver has forced 44 sacks but allowed 32 sacks this season. Denver is even in turnovers. The Broncos have six defensive/special teams touchdowns and have allowed three.
Peyton Manning has completed 59.9% of his passes for 2,180 yards with 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He has been sacked 15 times. Manning has missed the last four games with a broken foot and is out this week despite practicing for the first time since the injury. Brock Osweiler has started in place of Manning. Osweiler has completed 63.5% of his passes for 1,140 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and has 37 rushing yards.
Running back Ronnie Hillman has 169 carries for 663 yards and 6 touchdowns along with 18 catches for 64 yards. He is probable with a foot injury. C.J. Anderson has 124 carries for 538 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 22 catches for 174 yards. He is probable with a knee injury.
Receiver DeMaryius Thomas has 88 catches for 1,067 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is probable with a shoulder injury. Emmanuel Sanders has 57 catches for 788 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is probable with a finger injury. Tight end Owen Daniels has 38 catches for 418 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is probable with a knee injury. Bennie Fowler and Jordan Norwood will also get some targets. Norwood is doubtful with a hamstring injury. The Broncos acquired tight end Vernon Davis in a trade with the 49ers. Ten defensive players and five offensive linemen are listed on the injury report.
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Pittsburgh is outscoring teams 27-20 this season. The Steelers are #11 in points allowed and #5 in scoring. Pittsburgh is averaging 405 yards per game on offense including 285 passing and 120 rushing yards. The Steelers are #9 or better in all three categories. On defense, Pittsburgh is allowing 367 total yards per game including 269 passing and 88 rushing yards. Pittsburgh is #6 in rush defense but #31 against the pass. The Steelers are 68/172 on third and fourth down conversions. Opponents are 74/192. Pittsburgh has forced 38 sacks and allowed 27 this year. The Steelers are +4 in turnovers, with 2 defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown.
Pittsburgh has used three quarterbacks this season. Ben Roethlisberger had completed 67.2% of his passes for 2,989 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and also has 34 rushing yards. He missed several games with a foot injury. Michael Vick started a few games but was benched in favor of Landry Jones. Vick has thrown for 371 yards with 2 interceptions, and also has 99 rushing yards. Jones has passed for 513 yards with 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Running back DeAngelo Williams has 164 carries for 773 yards and 8 touchdowns, along with 27 catches for 271 yards. He is probable with an illness. Le’Veon Bell has 113 carries for 556 yards and 3 touchdowns along with 24 catches for 136 yards. He is out for the season with a torn ACL. Besides Vick and Roethlisberger, no other running back has more than 4 carries.
Receiver Antonio Brown has 100 catches for 1,397 yards and 7 touchdowns. Martavis Bryant has 38 catches for 672 yards and 6 touchdowns. Markus Wheaton has 32 catches for 589 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Heath Miller has 49 catches for 456 yards and a touchdown. He is probable with a rib injury. Darrius Heyward-Bey has 18 catches for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight end Matt Spaeth is probable with a knee injury. Four defensive players and four offensive linemen are on the injury report.
Denver is 7-2 ATS after an ATS loss, 10-3 after a straight up loss, 11-4 in December, 2-5 after passing for more than 250 yards, 4-10 after scoring less than 15 points, 2-6 in week 15, 1-4 after allowing less than 250 yards, and 0-4 after rushing for 90 yards or less. The underdog is 5-2 ATS in this series recently. The Broncos have covered 4 of the last 5 against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is 5-0 ATS after scoring more than 30 points, 10-1 in December, 6-1 after passing for 250 yards or more, 12-3 against teams with winning records, 8-2 after allowing more than 250 passing yards, 3-1-1 after rushing for 90 yards or less, 9-3 against teams with winning road records, 12-5-1 overall, 7-3-1 after a win and a cover, 9-4-1 at home, and 3-8-1 after allowing 350 total yards or more. Five of the last six games in this series have gone over the total.
This is a battle of Denver’s dominant defense and Pittburgh’s explosive offense. Denver struggled on offense last week mainly because the offensive line couldn’t pass protect. Pittsburgh should be able to to get to Osweiler as well. I like the Steelers to win a close game.