Steelers, Broncos set to meet for 8th time in playoffs

Ralph N. Paulk
| Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, 7:33 p.m.

The Steelers and Denver Broncos have been playoff fixtures for most of the past five decades.

The two have qualified for the postseason a combined 50 times — including a record 28 playoff appearances by the Steelers since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

The Steelers (11-6) and Broncos (12-4) will rendezvous again at 4:40 p.m. Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver in the AFC divisional round. It's the second meeting of the season for the teams, with the Steelers pulling off a 34-27 comeback win Dec. 20 at Heinz Field.

A victory propels the winner into the AFC championship game Jan. 24.

“I was looking at the playoff groupings the other day, and you have all the familiar faces — New England, Denver and Pittsburgh,” Steelers veteran long snapper Greg Warren said. “It seems like those teams always pop up, so you do create some kind of rivalry as the playoffs go.”

It will be the eighth playoff matchup between the Steelers and Broncos, who have home-field advantage for the sixth time. And neither has faced another team more in the postseason.

They have twice met in the AFC championship game. The Broncos won 24-21 in 1997, and defeated Green Bay in the Super Bowl. The Steelers won 34-17 in 2006 before beating Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

“I've never thought about it as a rivalry, but two teams that have been very consistent,” Warren said. “These are totally different teams than the ones who played (in the playoffs) last time.

“We can't think too much about those games because they have nothing to do with this week. You can't make any comparisons other than we both have been successful in the playoffs.”

The Steelers are uniquely linked to the Dallas Cowboys, largely because they faced each other three times in Super Bowls. The Oakland Raiders conjure up arguably the greatest playoff memory: The Immaculate Reception.

However, the Steelers and Broncos have crossed paths so often en route to either the AFC championship game or the Super Bowl, they have forged a playoff rivalry.

It isn't exactly Pittsburgh-Dallas, but it's equally as intense, tight end Heath Miller said.

“Our team is totally different this time around,” Miller said, “and so are they. But there are enough players on both roster who remember how grueling a game that was five years ago.

“I've played them twice in the playoffs during my career. I'm not sure if it's considered a rivalry, but I'm sure Mr. (Dan) Rooney would see it differently.”

Denver, which holds a 4-3 postseason advantage over the Steelers, is hoping to atone for a 34-27 defeat at Heinz Field in Week 15. The Broncos, despite having the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, let a 14-point lead slip away.

The Steelers, too, are seeking redemption. Only a handful of players remain on a team that finished on the short end of a 29-23 overtime thriller five years ago.

“This game is about having the chance to move on to what we've all been chasing since the season started — the Super Bowl,” cornerback William Gay said. “The playoffs always make games like these bigger, and it doesn't matter who you play.

“But what I took away from our last playoff game was that we weren't the better team. We believe we are the better team this time.”

“This is going to be an emotional game no matter who plays,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “The fans always let us know how much these games mean. Everyone has to claw and fight. It's the playoffs, and both organizations play with a lot of passion and emotion. I think that's what creates a rivalry in the playoffs.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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