The Pittsburgh Steelers look to continue their familiar December push toward the playoffs on Sunday when they host the Denver Broncos. Pittsburgh recorded its fourth win in five outings last week and moved within two games of first-place Cincinnati with a 33-20 victory over the Bengals.
"We just know it's that time of year," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters. "It's crunch time and you've got to get hot at the right time." The three-time Pro Bowler threw for 282 yards last week, but will test his mettle against the Broncos' top-ranked passing defense. Like Roethlisberger, Denver's Brock Osweiler didn't find the end zone last week despite throwing for a career-high 308 yards in a 15-12 loss to Oakland. The setback dropped the AFC West-leading Broncos into a tie with Cincinnati for second place, although the latter holds the tiebreaker to claim temporary ownership of the first-round bye.
TV: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Steelers -6.5. O/U: 44.5
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (10-3): Emmanuel Sanders will return to Heinz Field a little over one year removed after calling Peyton Manning a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger. "What I said was what everybody in the National Football League knows and when it comes to Peyton Manning, the guy is the ultimate leader," Sanders said on Wednesday. "I've got nothing but love for Ben. It was no shot at Ben." Demaryius Thomas missed Thursday's practice, but the team officially listed the wideout's absence as not injury related.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (8-5): Antonio Brown has been right in the thick of the surge by Pittsburgh, which saw its high-powered offense average 494 yards and 35.2 points in its last five games. The speedy wideout has reeled in 48 receptions for 679 yards and four scores in that stretch and joins Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton in an embarrassment of riches for Roethlisberger. The trio has combined for 16 touchdowns, but will face a tough task against Denver's Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby.
1. Pittsburgh veteran RB DeAngelo Williams is expected to play despite missing Thursday's practice due to illness.
2. Denver will vie for its franchise-best seventh road win of the season on Sunday.
3. The Steelers have won nine straight games in December.
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Flacco is on the shelf while recuperating from a disc repair surgery in his neck. He is aiming to be cleared sometime in September.