This is Pittsburgh's seventh postseason meeting with Denver, making the Broncos the most familiar playoff opponent for the Steelers. But there's little familiar about this version of the Broncos, winners of the AFC West division.
Denver was not expected to compete in the AFC West after starting QB Kyle Orton was benched. But the Broncos defense has kept them in games down to the end, and Heisman winning QB Tim Tebow, despite putting up absymal passing numbers, has rallied the team for game-winning drives time after time.
The paradox of facing the Broncos is that the offense seems harmless (Denver could manage only 3 points against Kansas City last week). But their stingy defense keeps them in the game (At 7-3, the Broncos were just one touchdown away from a win all day long). Any mistake may cost you the game. Throw in the hostile atmosphere at Mile High, and they are not an opponent to be taken lightly.
The Steelers are trying to recreate their 2005 run to Super Bowl XL by winning on the road as a Wild Card. But this time, they enter the playoffs with some serious injuries. QB Ben Roethlisberger will play with an ankle sprain he re-aggravated against Cleveland. Center Maurkice Pouncey, also with an ankle injury, is not expected to play.
Safety Ryan Clark will not play due to health concerns-- at a game in Denver in 2007, a blood disorder caused Clark to react negatively to the stress of playing at high altitude, costing him the rest of the season and ultimately his gall bladder and spleen. Clark was told by doctors that he could play in Denver now that the organs that caused the problems had been removed, but coach Mike Tomlin benched Clark as a precaution.
"It was an easy decision for us. When looking at all of our data we came to the determination he is at more risk so we are not going to play him. It's that simple."
-- Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin
Still, the Steelers are favored to win this matchup. Can they advance to meet Baltimore or New England in the playoffs' second round?