From Comcast SportsNetENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Broncos linebacker Joe Mays was strolling through the grocery store earlier this week when he spotted a family decked out in Pittsburgh Steelers garb. The invasion of Pittsburgh fans has already begun. In his own neighborhood, no less. Wait until Sunday. Billed as Broncos country, this region will be transformed into Steelers territory with Ben Roethlisberger & Co. arriving in the Mile High City for a first-round playoff game. Pittsburgh fans have always traveled well for big games, doing their best to bring some home-field advantage on the road with their numbers and noise. That's why Broncos coach John Fox urged fans not to sell their tickets to Steelers supporters. The last thing Fox wants to see this weekend is a sea of yellow Terrible Towels in the stadium. "I would encourage all of them to keep their seats so to speak and not sell them to Pittsburgh fans, so our stadium remains as active and loud as it's been," Fox said. "More blue and orange as opposed to (black) and gold." Shutting out Pittsburgh's faithful probably won't happen. They were certainly a roaring bunch during the 2005 AFC Championship, rooting on the Steelers to a 34-17 win in Denver on their way to another Super Bowl title. The sight of so much black and gold on the road never gets old for Roethlisberger. "I think it kind of blows most people away," he said. "When you're on the road and you have guys on other teams that aren't used to seeing that, and all of a sudden they see the Steeler fans come in and their like, Holy cow, what's going on?' It's a pretty neat feeling." According to SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that pulls together listings from all major secondary ticket websites, Pittsburgh fans just seem to find a way to get their hands on tickets. A good portion of ticket shoppers scouring SeatGeek for deals for the playoff game are from the Pennsylvania area. "The Steelers simply are a massive road draw, and their fans come out of the woodwork to show up -- wherever they are playing," said Will Flaherty, the director of communications at SeatGeek. "We see it week in and week out whenever the Steelers hit the road in the NFL in terms of elevated secondary market prices, and this weekend is no exception to that trend." There may be even more tickets available from disgruntled Broncos season-ticket holders. Sure, this is the Broncos' first postseason appearance in six years, but the recent poor play of Tim Tebow, along with conservative, predictable play calling, has turned off some die-hard Denver fans. The Broncos had far more punts (nine) than points (three) in a loss to Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. The Broncos' third straight loss nearly cost them a playoff spot, but they were bailed out when San Diego beat Oakland later Sunday. "That game was one step above watching paint dry," said Todd Tenenbaum, who's from Denver and has had season tickets in his family since the franchise's birth in 1960. "To watch the running back and quarterback bump into each other to see who can get up the middle first is just boring. "I'd rather stay home and watch Wizards of Waverly Place' with my kids." As for heeding Fox's advice, Tenenbaum said he's taking it under advisement. "Because of the value of the tickets and that most likely Pittsburgh is going to cream us, I'd rather sell to a Pittsburgh fan that I know," he said. "That way, they can enjoy the game. "I feel guilty about selling." Steelers fans often make road games feel just like Heinz Field. "I'm continually surprised and awed by that, particularly when we're out west," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got world championship-caliber fans, and that's why we work so hard to produce results on the field for them." Broncos running back Lance Ball can't get away from Steelersmania. He hears about it all the time since his brother is a big Pittsburgh fan. "He's on both sides. I think he'll wear a half (jersey of each)," Ball said, laughing. "Pittsburgh is one of America's teams. They've been around. They're a favorite, just like the Cowboys." As for the partisan crowd, Ball said it won't bother him. After all, the Broncos went 3-5 at home, 5-3 on the road. "I like playing in an away-game type of field," Ball said. "But we're at home. We have to take it like that. It's our house."
1) Warriors: Rave all you want about Steph and KD and Klay and the incredible offense, but the foundation is the hyperactive, highly intelligent defense.
2) Rockets: Behind James and CP, they will score and score often. They will be better on defense. This will push them, for the second time in 20 years, past the Spurs.
3) Thunder: Russ, PG and Melo all together in GM San Presti’s petri dish. There will be fireworks, and it shouldn’t take long to see if they’ll be beautiful or destructive.
4) Spurs: LA is plodding, Kawhi is limping and Tony P is at least two months away from being a ghost of his former self. This is Pop’s biggest challenge.
5) Nuggets: Millsap is going to help this team. A lot. If Joker stays healthy and the point guard play is solid, they could make a run at a top-4 seed.
6) Timberwolves: Thibs has gathered many pieces, some good and some duplicative. Why does this feel like a salad mixing old avocados and tomatoes with fresh lettuce?
7) Clippers: CP3’s absence gives this bunch a strange look, like a room without a roof. Not much to be ‘Happy’ about, though, except what The Logo can do for the future.
8) Trail Blazers: Points are going to come, but can anybody play D? Some team has to earn the 8-seed and I like the work Dame, CJ and Nurk put in late last season.
9) Pelicans: Boogie and The Brow. This could be epic, or epic fail. Only if Jrue stays healthy and Raj plays young (good luck with that) can this squad make some noise.
10) Jazz: Gordy and G-Hill are gone. Exum may miss the season. Coach Quin is solid, yes, but how far he can go if the second-biggest paycheck is going to Aussie Joe?
11) Grizzlies: Gonna miss oldes Zach and Vince and also The Grindfather, the best nickname in the league, in his element. Glory days are gone, so invite the dawn.
12) Mavericks: Someday, maybe 25 years from now, Cubes will let Dirk limp his way to the Hall. Until then, it’s mediocrity and less. How long will they pack the house?
13) Suns: They’re young and tantalizing. They may be good someday, but for now it’s the Desert Day Care center, with Papa Earl trying to keep the peace and survive.
14) Lakers: The Ball family is in the house, and Lonzo brings the promise of joy. They’ll be more half-watchable this year, because you don’t wanna see this D.
15) Kings: Titanic may be rising from the deep. Nice idea, adding old heads to work with youngsters De’Aaron, Skal and Buddy. But the Kangz are in the wrong division.
1) Celtics: This could take a few weeks. That five-game homer, post-Thanksgiving, should be the time for Kyrie, Gordy & Co. to go to work. What you got, Coach Brad?
2) Cavaliers: This is the year LeBron reaches the dark side of the mountain. That’s trouble for The Land. They could win 55, which is about how many games he’ll play.
3) Wizards: It’s time for John Wall to prove it, to take the Wiz to unfamiliar heights. If Brad Beal can stay on the court (that’s asking a lot), they’ll breathe on the Cavs.
4) Bucks: The D improved when Young Jabari went down, and he’ll be out until February. Hmm. OK. It’s close-up time for the Greek Freak. Can anybody make a J?
5) Raptors: The guards can score but can’t/won’t defend. How much does Serge have left? They’ll have it rough unless the big addition, CJ Miles, has a career year.
6) Heat: Love the Dragon. Love/hate Dion and Hassan. Don’t like much of the rest of the roster, though. Coaching truly matters with this bunch, and they have a fine one.
7) Hornets: A 35-win team in the West, which translates to 44 in the East. Malik Monk is OK, but Kemba’s the engine. It’s a low bar for Dwight. Can he reach it?
8) 76ers: Young Ben, aka Fresh Prince, is our pick for Rook of the Year. We like Saric. We believe JJ will help. But this is about The Process. If he plays 50 games, they win 38.
9) Pistons: Avery B will help the D, but until SVG finds a taker for Reggie J, the playoffs are MIA. Stanley J has skills. It’s time for him to show it.
10) Nets: Hello, D-Lo. We see you, Mr. Crabbe. The clowns won’t be so funny this season. Coach Kenny has ’em playing hard and fast. They can go from 20 wins to 30.
11) Magic: Other than AG’s hops, Jonathon Simmons’ grit and Mo Speights’ smile, there is nothing to see here. This club is 20 percent highlights, 80 percent yikes.
12) Pacers: After making the playoffs in six of seven seasons, you flip four of your top six scorers, including PG. What the . . .? It’s Lottery Time in Indy.
13) Knicks: New York works its rump off to make its teams relevant. The Knicks don’t care. KP6 is saddled with a frat-house clothes hamper of an organization.
14) Bulls: They’ve demolished the franchise MJ made famous and slithered into the basement once occupied, seemingly for decades, by the Sixers. We’re thinking 12-70.
15) Hawks: Baze and Schroder are the best Travis Schlenk has on a team that could go 0-for-the-West. We’re thinking 10-72, only because the least of the East is so junky.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Warriors over Rockets in 5
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Cavs over Celtics in 6
Warriors over Cavs in 4
Kyle Shanahan is, self admittedly, not a patient person. As he watched quarterback C.J. Beathard run the scout team over the last couple of weeks -- how he visualized an unfamiliar play, went through his progressions and handled the defensive coverages -- the head coach saw rapid improvement every day. But he suppressed any urge to play the rookie before he was ready.
“I tried to wait for the right time for him and the right time for the team,” Shanahan explained.
Down 14-0 to Washington halfway through the second quarter with starter Brian Hoyer struggling, Shanahan knew Beathard’s time had come.
“I felt the team needed it right then,” Shanahan said. “It also made me more confident to do it because I thought he was ready for it, also.”
Moments after the game was over, Shanahan named Beathard the starter. Watching the game tape on the flight home only bolstered his decision.
“By no means was he perfect, missed a couple of things, but that always happens,” Shanahan said. “I thought he came in there, didn’t hesitate, competed. The moment was not too big for him. Made a few plays in rhythm, made a few off schedule plays and was a big reason we got back in that game.”
Beathard led the 49ers on two scoring drives and finished 19-of-36 with 245 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, though it came on fourth-and-20 on his final pass attempt of the game. On his 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson, Beathard extended the play when the fifth year receiver wasn’t where he expected him to be.
“He was supposed to go to the post for a certain coverage, and they had a busted coverage, so he just hung out there which is why C.J. didn’t see it right away,” Shanahan explained. “We had enough protection where he could take a couple more hitches. He drove the pocket and saw where Aldrick was, and he didn’t hesitate. Made that throw with that arm strength.”
Shanahan smirked at his not-so-subtle dig at those who questioned Beathard’s arm strength during the draft process. He sees a quarterback who can make all the throws, and make them from the pocket, and scramble when he needs to. All he needs now, Shanahan contends, is experience.
“It’s about playing in the game and reacting to defenses, reacting to coverages, reacting to adjustments. He’s going to see a lot of things he hasn’t seen before, and that will change each week. It will probably change each quarter.”
Helping Beathard continue to grow through those experiences will require patience, but in this situation, it’s the kind the head coach can handle.
“You’re never going to get a quick answer. You see over time, but he’s got the ability to do it. He’s got the mental toughness to do it. I think he will get better the more he plays.”