I’m sure, like me, you didn’t expect to be preparing to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play today. Their chances of making the postseason were slim entering Week 18. But everything played out the way that it needed to in order for them to advance, and so we’ve got a game to discuss.
Their opponent today is the Kansas City Chiefs, of course, quite a formidable one indeed. After overcoming some hiccups early in the year, they have won nine of their last 10 games, with only a surprise overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, which actually cost them the number one seed and forced them to play this weekend. Otherwise, the Steelers would be in Tennessee right now.
Kansas City has not looked like the juggernaut that beat the Steelers three weeks ago, however, in the last couple of games. As mentioned, they lost to the Bengals, but the Denver Broncos were also able to play them close last week—in fact, they were trailing entering the fourth quarter, and didn’t take the lead until midway through the final frame on an 86-yard fumble recovery.
The key here is the Chiefs’ defense has slipped. They’ve allowed 24 or more points in three of their last four games, even though they did not turn the ball over in two of said games. If the Steelers can get some takeaways—and Kansas City did have 25 giveaways on the year, ranking 23rd—they can keep this one close.
Now, whether or not they have much of a run game remains to be seen, and that will depend largely on how effective running back Najee Harris can be with an injured dominant arm. He is slated to play, but how well will he be able to protect himself while also playing without compromise for the injury?
The offensive line will be a focal point as well. Will J.C. Hassenauer or Kendrick Green start at center? The line is as good as it’s going to get right now—but it did look pretty good two weeks ago, with the same personnel they have now.
Defensively, they obviously have to be wary of tight end Travis Kelce, whom the Chiefs didn’t have last time around. The defense has done a better job handling tight ends this year, but Kelce is a game-breaking talent.
But so is T.J. Watt, who is likely to be the Defensive Player of the Year. He is a lot healthier than when he faced the Chiefs last time, and the defense is much more successful when he’s on the field. They cannot afford Patrick Mahomes to extend plays, and the best way to do that is to get Watt after him.
Naturally, they need the back end to hold up. Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, and Ahkello Witherspoon will be critical in coverage. It’s not even about quick throws, because Mahomes doesn’t have a problem with holding onto the ball by moving around in the pocket and waiting for the open guy.