January 20, 2006

Frinklin Playoff Preview: AFC Championship

Ummm… excuse me? What are these guys doing here? Wasn’t this all set up for New England-Indianapolis Part 32? That legendary game where the Colts attempted to prove themselves the successor to New England’s dynasty, with Brady and Bellichek doing everything they could to stave that off?

Instead we get Jake Plummer and Bill Cowher?

Nothing against the Broncos or the Steelers, but nobody, including you, me or anyone you know, saw this coming. These two teams are markedly similar. Both feature impressive running games, stifling defenses and quarterbacks who are tasked with not losing more than winning each game. The Steelers come in hot after two impressive road playoff wins and after the ending of the Indy game, it would be hard for Pittsburgh not to think itself a team of destiny. Denver got lucky in some ways against the Patriots, watching them self-destruct and taking advantage of the resulting opportunities.

The Broncos’ main objective is to maximize Plummer’s success. Jake is fine when the running game is working, he isn’t counted on to do too much, and they can get him out of the pocket. The Broncos multi-tiered running game featuring Tatum Bell (Lighting), Mike Anderson (Thunder) and Ron Dayne (More Thunder) is the key. Plummer feeds off play-action and planned rollouts.

The Steelers will counter with Dick LeBeau’s aggressive, blitzing defense led by safety Troy Palumalu. The Steelers play a pure 3-4 featuring blitzes from all angles. It starts up front: If Pittsburgh can stuff the Denver running game with nose tackle Casey Hampton and various defensive ends, freeing up Palumalu and outside backers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans to freelance and blitz, Plummer can look forward to a very long afternoon. On offense, Pittsburgh will look to run with Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, with third-down back Verron Haynes as a change-up. The Steelers were very aggressive and very successful throwing on first down against Indianapolis. That will be more difficult against Denver, as Champ Bailey and rookies Darrant Williams and Dominque Foxworth outclass the Colts corners.

The Steelers are trying to do something not seen in 20 years: win three straight road games in route to the Super Bowl. They’re peaking at the right time and were very impressive over Indy. Denver is at home, though Invesco Fields isn’t the advantage the old Mile High Stadium was. It comes down to quarterback play. Both teams strive to minimize QB mistakes. The team that succeeds wins.

The Pick: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 21

Posted by Frinklin at January 20, 2006 10:17 AM | TrackBack
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