Steelers look to make it seven in a row when they take on the Broncos in the Mile High City
Pittsburgh and Denver are feeling really good entering Sunday's matchup after road wins last week. These two teams last met in 2016 in the postseason, with the Broncos holding on for the 23-16 win. Peyton Manning got the better of Ben Roethlisberger in that game, with the help of five Brandon McManus field goals. Of course that postseason game isn't as famous as the walk-off win a Tim Tebow-led Denver team had over the Steelers in 2012.
As for this game, Pittsburgh has won six in a row and for all of the fanfare that the offense gets, it's the defense that deserves much of the credit. During this winning streak, the Steelers have held each opponent to 21 points or fewer. The team has stifled rushing attacks, which makes the Jaguars' outburst last week even weirder. The Jags managed 179 yards on the ground in the 20-16 loss. On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville bottled up Antonio Brown for the most part, but he broke out for a long touchdown as part of the eventual come-from-behind victory.
The Broncos have split their last four games and are feeling good after a one-point win at the Chargers last Sunday in a game in which they were seven-point underdogs. The defense was gashed through the air, but they clamped down on Melvin Gordon and did what they had to in order to get the win. The division is probably out of reach, but if Denver can get hot, then maybe the Broncos can back their way into a wild card spot.
Pittsburgh at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 25 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -3
Three Things to Watch
Pittsburgh is playing its third road game over a four-week span, meaning that next week's home contest against the Chargers could be important in terms of seeding for the AFC playoffs. The Steelers are 17-5 straight up the last three years on the road. They have also won eight of their last 10 games in November. Denver is home for just the third time over the last six weeks. The Broncos can't really afford to be focused on anything other than their current opponent. I don't think that'll be an issue, though, with a road game against the Bengals up next. Denver has won just 11 of its last 21 at home.
2. Le'Veon who?
Now that we know with 100 percent certainty that Le'Veon Bell will not be suiting up for the Steelers, the focus can return to James Conner and what he's been able to do. The running back out of the University of Pittsburgh dropped a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter of the eventual win over Jacksonville, but that was a blip in a season in which Conner is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns to just one fumble lost. He's been very reliable for the Steelers, picking up 45 first downs on the ground, and he has 45 catches on 60 targets.
Denver has had a fascinating season against the opposition's running game. The Broncos started out really hot, holding the Seahawks, Raiders and Ravens in check, but then the dam burst against the Chiefs, Jets and Rams. It was especially bad against New York and Los Angeles, which accrued almost 600 rushing yards between them. The team locked in afterwards, holding its next four opponents under 100 yards. It's a dynamic group led by Todd Davis, who has 72 tackles.
3. Pass rushing galore
These two teams have some fierce pass rushers who will certainly make themselves heard on Sunday. The home team is led by Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb, who have 19 sacks between them. The rest of the team has just 12 overall, with Shane Ray only chipping in one. Pittsburgh's offensive line has done a great job keeping Roethlisberger upright, allowing just 14 sacks. Marcus Gilbert's status will be something to watch as he deals with a knee ailment. On the other side, you've got a Broncos offensive line ravaged by injuries. Max Garcia, Matt Paradis and Ron Leary are all injured and done for the season. T.J. Watt is leading Pittsburgh with 10 sacks, but three others have at least four on the year. Denver's Case Keenum is not the most mobile quarterback of the bunch. He's been sacked 24 times and has just 35 yards rushing.
I picked Denver to beat the Chiefs and Rams, and neither happened. I took the Chargers last week, and Denver picked up the upset win. This matchup is very interesting to me as both teams play into each other's strengths. I still believe in Denver's secondary and its ability to slow down Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. I wonder, though, if Denver can keep up in a potential shootout. Luckily, I don't think that will be an issue. Give me the home team in another mini-upset.
Prediction: Broncos 24, Steelers 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.