Steelers injury concerns open door for Bucking Broncos
The stars appear to be aligning for the Denver Broncos in their quest for a second Super Bowl appearance in three years, but big questions remain as the AFC's top seed heads into tomorrow's Divisional play-off game against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers (10-6) suffered a double dose of bad injury news with their leading receiver, Antonio Brown (concussion), and leading rusher DeAngelo Williams (foot) ruled out for the game.
Listed as questionable was two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who might be restricted by a sprained joint and torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder even if he is able to suit up.
That would seem to shift the odds heavily in Denver's favour, but the defensive-minded Broncos (12-4) have their own questions to answer.
None looms bigger than what 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning, a five-time league most valuable player, can deliver in what may be his last campaign. Manning returned from seven weeks injured just in time to steer the Broncos to victory over San Diego on the final day of the regular season to earn a first-round bye and home field advantage. But the 14-times Pro Bowler has been a shadow of his former elite self on the field.
Even before the injury, Manning was enduring his worst statistical season with nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
By the time they take the field in Denver, the Broncos and Steelers will know which team awaits the winner, since the New England Patriots (12-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) play tonight.
The Patriots have also been hit by injuries, limping rather than sprinting into the play-offs in losing their final two games to surrender top-seeding in the AFC.
Quarterback Tom Brady sprained an ankle two weeks ago, but is expected to be fit to play the Chiefs, while wide receiver Julian Edelman (broken foot) is listed as probable after missing seven games. Rob Gronkowski (knee) is also a concern.
New England v Kansas City, tonight, 9.30; Arizona v Green Bay, tomorrow,1.0am; Carolina v Seattle, 5.30; Denver v Pittsburgh, 9.0. All Sky Sports 2
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.