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."
2017 grade: B+
Level of need: Low
Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut
Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson
How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?
The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.
So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?
Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.
The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.
The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.
Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.
1. Trade chips.
The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.
The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.
The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.
2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.
Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.
It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.
3. Win the special teams battle.
In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.
The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?