Denver Broncos (3-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3)
Going into the season, I thought we could see the Broncos make a big jump in win total and at least compete for a playoff spot in the AFC. They upgraded their quarterback situation by adding Teddy Bridgewater and had a promising group of young receivers, while their defense seemed likely to improve due to significant upgrades at their biggest position of weakness, cornerback, as well as the re-addition of top edge defender Von Miller, who missed all of 2020.
The Broncos got off to a good start, winning their first three games and, even though they had a very easy schedule (Giants, Jaguars, Jets) they won all three games by at least 10 points and by an average of 16.7 points, so they were taking care of business and then some. Unfortunately, injuries have started to mount for this team, as wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, edge defender Bradley Chubb, and inside linebacker Josey Jewell have all gone down for an extended period of time just since week one.
The most impactful injury came in their week 4 loss to the Ravens, their first game against a capable opponent and their first loss of the season, a game in which the Broncos lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the game at halftime. Bridgewater will be back this week, but the Broncos were down 14-7 at the time Bridgewater went down and could have easily lost the game even if Bridgewater had stayed healthy, in part due to their other injury absences. On top of that, the Broncos could also be without another key wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who injured his ankle in Friday’s practice.
Fortunately, the schedule does get easier for the Broncos. The Steelers aren’t quite as bad as the three teams the Broncos beat easily to begin the season, but it’s clear their offense is no better than a year ago and, in fact may be worse, while their defense is still good, but not good enough to offset their offensive performance like they were last season, when the Steelers won a lot of close games against easy competition.
The Steelers won week 1 in Buffalo, which was a big surprise at the time, but given the results of their past three games, it’s pretty safe to say that result was a fluke and that the Steelers will continue struggling to beat capable opponents. My calculated line has the Broncos favored by two points, which doesn’t give us much value, given that this line is actually at Denver -1.5, but there is not nearly enough here to bet on the banged up Broncos with any sort of confidence.
Denver Broncos 19 Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Pick against the spread: Denver -1.5