Preview: Kansas City Chiefs
For both teams, Sunday’s game is a must-win. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the formula is simple: win and they’re in.
Playoff Scenarios a Plenty
Also looming, is a potential AFC North Division title, as the Steelers trail the Cincinnati Bengals by a half game in the standings. The Bengals face their own challenge this weekend, against the AFC’s current #2 seed, the Denver Broncos. A Bengals loss with a Steelers win would put the black and gold in first place in the AFC North, a half game in front of the Bengals, Pittsburgh’s opponent next week (and a game that could be for all of the marbles.)
A slip-up here, and the current #6 seed in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens, could jump ahead of the Steelers not only in the wild card race, but also for a shot at the division crown.
It’s an interesting scenario, and one where the Steelers control their own destiny to clinch a playoff berth, and have an opportunity to win the AFC North and have a first round playoff game at Heinz Field. It would be the first time home playoff game since the 2010 season’s AFC Championship game, against the New York Jets.
Chiefs Wide Receivers
The question on everyone’s mind going into Sunday’s game: will a Chiefs WR score a touchdown against the Steelers secondary? It’s an intriguing prospect, as no KC wideout has scored a TD all season. All of Cheifs QB Alex Smith’s touchdown passes have gone to RB’s or TE’s.
With SS Troy Polamalu and CB Ike Taylor both doubtful to play, the defense might leave some holes for the lackluster Chiefs ends to finally find the end zone.
Kansas City has the league’s 7th best rushing attack, with Pittsburgh surrendering only the 11th most ground yards to opponents. Defensively, KC gives up the 28th most rushing yards to opponents while the Steelers currently have the 10th best rushing game in the NFL. The league’s top-ranked offense features the 2nd best passing team, who will line up against a defense 2nd in passing yards allowed. Conversely, the Chiefs 2nd-to-last passing offense faces a 25th ranked Steeler passing defense.
On paper, this should spell a shutdown of KC RB’s Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, while the Steelers establish their offense on the back of Le’Veon Bell. However, we all know to expect the unexpected.
Late Season Surge
The Steelers are no strangers to a late season surge. Last year, the team started 2-6 only to finish 6-2, with an overall record of 8-8.
This season, Pittsburgh sits at 9-5 with a 2 game winning streak. Since starting the season 3-3, they have won 6 of their last 8 games.
Tomlin On Preparedness
The Steelers are the beneficiary of several players getting healthy going into the home stretch of the season. However, with a playoff berth on the line, Coach Mike Tomlin has been suspect about rushing players onto the field, if they are not prepared to go. Case examples have been made of players who fully practiced, such as Marcus Gilbert last week, who then sat in favor of Mike Adams. “The Next Man Up” has been seen with Arthur Moats playing in place of James Harrison, a combination of Vince Williams and Sean Spence getting the lion’s share of reps at ILB for Ryan Shazier, and Ike Taylor sitting out for Brice McCain and Antwon Blake.
Tomlin has been quoted on going with the players best prepared, or in my observation, those with the “hot hand.” I couldn’t agree more on this approach, as the current rotation of players are getting the job done, and there’s no need to risk the season on giving snaps to players who have a bit of “rust” on them.
Kansas City has always given the Steelers a rough time, and face their own postseason demise if they do not win in Pittsburgh. The Steelers control their destiny, and I cannot see the Alex Smith making life as hard for the defense as Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton or Drew Brees have over the last 3 weeks. (The Chiefs also lack the same artillery as those QBs.)
With everything on the line, I see the potential AFC North Championship game being played at Heinz Field next weekend. Anything less would be a monumental disappointment.