Steelers head to Mile High

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos are hoping for very different things coming out of their respective bye weeks.

The Steelers look to continue where they left off before the break, while the Broncos hope they have put their worst home loss in over 40 years behind them when the teams meet Sunday night in Denver.

Oddsmakers from have made Pittsburgh -3.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 39 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 82% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -3.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Pittsburgh (5-1) sits atop the AFC North, and while it hasn't received the attention that the undefeated New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts have, that's fine with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

"If we're as good as maybe we think we are, we'll run across some of those teams at some point," he said. "In the short term, we need to focus on being prepared to play the Denver Broncos."

Tomlin has to feel confident after his players received some much needed rest. Hines Ward (sprained knee), Troy Polamalu (abdomen) and Santonio Holmes (hamstring) are all expected to play this weekend after missing the Steelers' previous game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Ward would be returning after missing the previous two games.

"All tests to this point have been very positive (about Ward)," Tomlin told the Steelers' official Web site. "I know he is excited about being back in there as we are about having him back in there."

The return of Ward and Holmes will boost an already dangerous Steelers' offense, giving it more options down field while also opening up the running game. Pittsburgh had 342 yards of total offense in a 21-0 win over the Seahawks two weeks ago, limiting Seattle to 144 yards.

While the Steelers are trying to continue the success they had before the bye week, Denver (2-3) is trying to end a three-game losing streak. The Broncos entered their week off on the heels of a 41-3 loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers had 484 yards of total offense and handed Denver its worst loss at home since 1966.

"One thing you can't do is dwell on it," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "You learn from it and you keep moving on. You worry about that loss and the next team will get you."

Bailey and the Broncos are trying to find some answers on defense. They have the worst rushing defense in the league, although they also own the league's best defense against the pass, allowing 145.6 yards per game.

Bailey was bothered in practice by a strained left quadriceps, but expects to play this weekend.

"We're playing with a chip on our shoulders," he said. "We need to be more aggressive in every part of the game."

The Broncos' schedule doesn't get much easier after Sunday's game. They play the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers next Monday before going on the road to face Detroit and Kansas City.

"I know to people it looks like, 'Oh, this team is awful,'" safety John Lynch said. "But that's not the case. We've got to show it."

Pittsburgh has the second-ranked rushing offense in the league, averaging 167.0 yards per game, and is averaging 26.4 points per game. The Steelers face a Denver team that is allowing 187.6 rushing yards per game, a number that excites Willie Parker, who is averaging 101.4 yards to rank fourth among NFL rushers.

"It all starts with the running backs," Parker said. "If we have a good game, the whole team has a good game. So we're like the center of attention with this team."

While Parker is quick to credit the offense with the Steelers' success, the defense should probably get some as well. Pittsburgh's opponents are averaging a league-low 235.6 yards per game and have yet to score a first-half touchdown this season. The 47 points Pittsburgh has allowed in five games is its fewest yielded to this point in 70 years.

"They're pretty good," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Any time you give up 9.4 points per game and 235 yards and have a point differential (that) is tied with New England, you?re pretty good, so I think they?re playing extremely well."

A win would improve the Steelers to 5-1 for only the second time in 10 years and first time since 2004.

Pittsburgh has won four of its last six games following a bye week. Tomlin said he wasn't worried that the week off would cause them to lose their momentum.

"I'd like to think we're not buying into the momentum thing. We just prepare, show up and play. Every time we go out there, it's us," Tomlin said. "I understand that it (momentum) is probably a factor of sports, but it's not one that can be a deciding factor for us. We need to show up when it's time to play, when they schedule games, and be ready to perform."

Denver has won 15 of the 25 all-time meetings against the Steelers. The Broncos have won three straight at home against Pittsburgh during the regular season, but this is the Steelers' first visit since a 34-17 win in the AFC championship game in January 2006.

By: AP Staff Writers - Email Us

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