By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
BOSTON (CBS) — The Denver Broncos travel to Heinz Field on Sunday to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a game with massive playoff implications for both teams. Winning out is practically a must for the Broncos, and the Steelers are fighting for their playoff lives.
In the wake of Denver’s upset loss last Sunday at the hands of the Oakland Raiders, which vaulted the Patriots back into the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, an interesting question arises out of this game: Who should New England fans be rooting for?
Prior to last Sunday, the Steelers were the no-brainer answer because the Broncos needed to lose another game in order to give the Patriots a chance at topping them in the standings. The Raiders took care of that.
Now that the Broncos are back behind the Patriots by one game, a Steelers win is no longer a must. And as the season rolls toward the playoffs, Pittsburgh is emerging as a bigger threat by the week. In terms of personnel, the Steelers offense led by Ben Roethlisberger and his array of dynamic weapons could represent the biggest challenge left for the Patriots defense. And they are getting hot at the best possible time.
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Not that you would give the Steelers a great chance of beating the Patriots in Foxboro. But compared to the rest of the AFC, they may have the best chance. For the Patriots’ sake, it may be best to keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs.
Denver, on the other hand, is still just one game behind the Patriots. If the Broncos can manage to win out and the Patriots have another slip-up, Denver would slide back into the No. 1 seed on the head-to-head tiebreaker and force the road to Super Bowl 50 to go through Denver, the worst-case scenario for New England.
The Catch-22 here is that if you’re rooting for Denver to win and nudge Pittsburgh further out of the playoff picture, you’re going on the assumption that the Patriots will win out. They should beat the Titans, Dolphins, and Jets, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that nothing is a guarantee. Another Denver loss would, at least, give the Patriots some leeway to survive another hiccup.
The safest choice here is the Steelers, and one might imagine that waving a Terrible Towel would be easier to stomach than donning the Broncos orange. Ultimately, you’re likely confident in the Patriots against anyone, anywhere – but you’d feel better about the Patriots at home against Pittsburgh than on the road at Denver. The Steelers would be a challenge, but far from impossible. So get those towels ready.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Read more from Matt here. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.