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The Pittsburgh Steelers have underachieved since losing Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers six years ago.
Mike Tomlin’s men have reached only as far as the divisional round, which they advanced to last year, only to be defeated by the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field on their way to glory.
They face a challenge on home soil on their quest to advance into the latter stages of the post-season against the Miami Dolphins, who have ended their eight-year exile from the playoffs under the tenure of Adam Gase with a 10-6 campaign.
The Steelers proved their credentials to make a surge towards the Super Bowl with a vital victory over the Baltimore Ravens in week 16 to secure the AFC North crown.
Tomlin’s side battled back from a fourth-quarter deficit to snatch the victory away from their rivals as Antonio Brown reached over the goalline with nine seconds remaining to score the decisive touchdown.
The victory required performances from all of their star players – Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Brown. Should all three of those men perform to the peak of their powers in the post-season it might be enough to guide the club towards their seventh Vince Lombardi trophy.
Standing in their way first are the Dolphins. Gase’s men defeated the Steelers in their regular-season contest due to the running ability of Jay Ajayi. Miami were robbed of quarterback Ryan Tannehill with a knee injury and will be led at Heinz Field by backup Matt Moore.
The 32-year-old is competent, but will not strike fear into the heart of Pittsburgh’s defense. Therefore backing the Steelers at 9/50 1.18 -550 0.18 -5.50 0.18 with Bovada sportsbook is the only realistic option, and the home side may even have a chance to cover the +10 spread if their offensive trio is on song.
The Steelers arguably have the best offense remaining in the AFC due to the presence of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown. No other side in the conference can match the overall talent level of those three players, all of whom are capable of winning a post-season match single-handed.
However, in recent years Pittsburgh have been undone by injuries to those star men. Only Roethlisberger playing with a shoulder ailment managed to suit up against the Broncos last term, with both Brown and Bell sidelined.
The running back also missed their 2014 post-season defeat to the Ravens after suffering a knee injury against the Cincinnati Bengals. He will get his first chance for playoff action against the Dolphins, with the hope of finally remaining healthy to guide his side to the divisional round.
After missing the first three games of the campaign due to suspension, Bell was a sensation for the Steelers notching over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. The added dimension of a potent running game will create numerous problems for the club’s post-season opponents, especially given the 24-year-old’s ability to score out of nothing.
Brown is the best receiver in the NFL and simply cannot be stopped by opposing defenses, notching his fourth 1,000 yard season on the spin along with 12 touchdowns. One of those scores was his vital strike against the Ravens to secure his side’s post-season berth.
With the experience of Roethlisberger pulling the strings there is no reason why the club should not advance to the divisional round where the Kansas City Chiefs will await.
No many people would have expected to see the Dolphins in the post-season just a year removed from a 6-10 campaign. However, Gase has reversed their record and had his team playing inspired football before Tannehill’s injury dampened any ambition of a deep run in the playoffs.
Moore is a capable backup and led the team to a hammering of the New York Jets to secure their place in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. However, his limitations were exposed against the New England Patriots as Bill Belichick’s men claimed a comfortable win at Hard Rock Stadium.
Injuries in the secondary will also limit Miami’s ability to compete against the power of the Steelers’ offense. Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Byron Maxwell are either out of the fixture or struggling to regain fitness.
The Dolphins boast a formidable defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. They will have to be unstoppable and be a constant presence in the backfield to limit Roethlisberger and his weapons at Heinz Field.
Wake has been outstanding this term and will be a consideration for comeback player of the year, having recorded an 11.5-sack season after missing returning from an Achilles injury. At the age of 34 he will not have many chances left for a post-season surge, so he will be determined to put forward his best performance against the Steelers.
Offensively, much will rely on the running power of Ajayi. The 23-year-old dominated the Steelers in their matchup earlier this term, rushing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh will put everything in their plan to stop him this time around, but should he flourish again, it may give the Dolphins a chance of an unlikely upset.
Although the Dolphins beat the Steelers at Heinz Field earlier in the campaign, injuries have now taken a firm hold of Gase’s men. Without their best players in the secondary it will be extremely tough to keep Pittsburgh’s playmakers out of the endzone, while keeping pace with their backup quarterback will be difficult, considering that they’re on the road.
Tomlin’s men will know that defeat would be a huge upset and a failure by their outfit this season. They have their key men healthy and primed for action, but will have to defend the run a lot better than they did in their previous meeting against Miami.
Stopping Ajayi’s threat is their main objective towards victory; should they achieve that, they will be heading to the Kansas City for the divisional round.
Pittsburgh Steelers to beat Miami Dolphins
Sunday 8th January 13:05 ET (18:05 GMT)
Odds: 9/50 1.18 -550 0.18 -5.50 0.18
Pittsburgh Steelers to cover +10 spread
Sunday 8th January 13:05 ET (18:05 GMT)
Odds: 91/100 1.91 -110 0.91 -1.10 0.91