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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 16, 2016 at 11:00 AM

The final game of Week Two of NFL Playoff action may not be much of a grand finale at all. We already know that Antonio Brown will be out for Pittsburgh. Their most dynamic receiving weapon took a huge hit late last Saturday night in Cincinnati, and will be out of the lineup. Worse, future Hall-of-Famer Ben Roethlisberger has a shoulder injury that could also keep him out…and will likely at least reduce his effectiveness if he does try to play.

Can Pittsburgh win with Landry Jones leading a shorthanded offense?!

The answer is probably no. And, certainly, ON PAPER, it’s a definite NO! The Denver Broncos have one of the best defenses the league has seen in recent years…right up there with the best of Seattle. How can Landry Jones move the ball on the road vs. an elite defense? He can’t. Pittsburgh has to hope Denver comes in overconfident…or that their own doctors find a way to put Big Ben back together again.

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about Denver’s defense, and Pittsburgh’s Cinderella hopes…


Won-Lost Records

Pittsburgh: 10-6 (#10 ranked schedule according to Sagarin)

Denver: 12-4 (#11 ranked schedule according to Sagarin)

Denver is a legitimate #1 seed. They reached 12 wins despite playing a slightly above average schedule. Pittsburgh can be proud of going 10-6 vs. its slate, particularly with Roethlisberger missing some time with a different injury. At full strength…Pittsburgh was right up there with Denver…and would have been a popular darkhorse pick in the markets to run the table from the #6 position in the seedings. Unfortunately, “Pittsburgh with Landry Jones” was more likely to go 7-9 (possibly worse) vs. that schedule. Tough to make the case that the Steelers are a “playoff caliber” team with Jones.


2015 Yards-Per-Play

Pittsburgh: 6.3 on offense, 5.5 on defense

Denver: 5.4 on offense, 4.4 on defense

It’s very hard to hold modern NFL offenses to just 4.4 yards-per-play. Even if you’re doing that with the game on the line, it’s difficult to maintain that rate in blowouts. An amazing job from the Broncos…one that allowed them to post a +0.9 YPP differential despite having a mediocre offense. Pittsburgh’s 6.3 was great…but much of that was created by Ben & Brown. The Steelers are probably close to break-even with Jones at QB…and are probably looking at something in the high 4’s in YPP this weekend unless somebody busts a big play.


2015 Turnover Differential

Pittsburgh: +2

Denver: -4

This is where things could get interesting. Denver’s offense has been mistake-prone all season, no matter who’s at quarterback. They had to survive a debacle in their season finale vs. San Diego to earn the top seed. Pittsburgh’s best hope to steal a win involves this category. Jones has to play clean, while the defense has to make something happen. This deep into the preview and we haven’t mentioned Peyton Manning’s name yet! His inconsistency this season is a potential door that could open to an upset.


2015 Market Performance

Pittsburgh: 9-6-1 ATS (6-10 to the Under)

Denver: 8-8 ATS (6-9-1 to the Under)

Both teams have shown Under trends this season…and that’s with Pittsburgh playing a few shootouts with Roethlisberger. Without him…Pittsburgh must hope for a replay of the Cincinnati game where they won a late coin flip. Shorten the game…and there’s at least a chance to catch a late break.


Current Line: No line yet

There’s no line up yet as we write this in advance of publication deadlines. There might be one up when you read it. Denver is going to be a clear favorite unless Big Ben flies down to the field in a red cape during warmups. Handicappers must determine how much, if anything, the Steelers can get on the board in their current situation.

JIM HURLEY has spent decades building a NETWORK of sources just for situations like this. He’ll know the health and mindset of both teams. Conditions could warrant as much as a 3-4 touchdown cover for the Broncos…or even an upset from the visitors if Denver comes in too overconfident.

NETWORK will have the final word for all the Divisional Round matchups on game day. You can always purchase JIM HURLEY’S BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about this weekend’s football or basketball , please call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Saturday before the first game kicks off.

We’ll start mixing more basketball into the NOTEBOOK mix as football continues to wind down. Here’s what’s on tap this week on these pages…

Monday: College Basketball Conference Summary…the ACC to prepare for Syracuse at Duke

Tuesday-Wednesday: NBA TV Preview…Golden State at Chicago Wednesday night on ESPN

Thursday: NFL Conference Championship Preview…to be determined

Saturday: NFL Conference Championship Preview…to be determined

Will the bye teams all win, setting up some sensational semifinals? Or, will a Wildcard crash the party? The man with the answers is the man with the money…WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!


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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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