The Pittsburgh Steelers just became a very poor bet to take down the Denver Broncos this weekend. Per reports, star wide receiver Antonio Brown has been ruled out due to concussion symptoms. Brown suffered a concussion on a vicious hit late last week in Pittsburgh’s first round playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but was unable to practice with the team all week. Unable to get cleared to play, Brown has already been declared out, leaving the Steelers short-handed at receiver.
Insult to Injury
If that’s not bad enough, the Steelers still don’t know the status of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who also was injured late in the game. Roethlisberger sustained a shoulder injury and briefly exited last week’s game. Upon his return it was evident he didn’t have the strength or velocity needed to effectively push the ball down the field. Pain and limitation could factor into Big Ben sitting out the Steelers’ second round playoff game, as well.
For now it’s just the absence of Brown that Pittsburgh has to worry about, but the loss of their #1 offensive weapon could be too great of an obstacle to overcome. Brown was a constant force in the passing game all year, racking up a career high 136 receptions and over 1,800 receiving yards. Brown remained a hot target in last week’s playoff win, hauling in seven catches for 110 yards. Against the Broncos mighty pass defense just a few weeks ago, Brown also went nuts, catching 16 passes for 189 yards and two scores. There was optimism a healthy Brown could challenge Denver’s strong defense once again, but now the Steelers will have to attempt to repeat that strong offensive effort in Denver without their best player.
The Steelers won’t be completely lost on paper, as Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton still give them two very explosive weapons on the outside. Roethlisberger and co. also still have reliable tight end Heath Miller, while speedy receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey should elevate to the #3 spot. Rookie receiver Sammie Coates, who caught just one pass on the year, could be activated this week to ensure the Steelers have adequate depth.
Naturally, not having both Antonio Brown and (likely) starting running back DeAngelo Williams puts a once elite Steelers offense behind the 8-ball as they head into Denver to try to take down the Broncos for the second time this year. Doing so was already going to be a tall order, as winning on the road in the playoffs is never easy, while beating a team multiple times during a year is also tough. Add in the return of what figures to be a healthy Peyton Manning and a very good Broncos defense seeking a little revenge, and Pittsburgh’s time in this year’s playoff may be coming to an end.
All of this makes the Steelers a poor bet for a win this week, but if they can somehow make it to the AFC title game they could quickly become an interesting Super Bowl pick. If still in the playoffs a week from now, the Steelers could potentially march into the AFC Championship game with Roethlisberger, Brown and Williams at full strength. It’s likely too much to ask, however, and the Broncos remain the favorite to move onto round three after this weekend.